Sevens given Olympic boost
Dubai - The sport of rugby Sevens was given another massive boost for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics after the highly successful three-day Rugby World Cup Sevens here.
Twenty-four teams competed in the men's tournament, rank outsiders Wales trumping Argentina in the final to be crowned champions for the first time.
Australia beat arch rivals New Zealand in the inaugural women's 16-team competition, which was played alongside the men's action.
Importantly for the International Rugby Board and the two observers of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the tournament threw up all kinds of upsets and showed the global appeal of the sport.
The men's draw saw the top four seeds crash out at the quarter-final stage and the last four contained teams from Europe, Africa, South America and Oceania in Wales, Kenya, Argentina and Samoa.
The women's draw might have seen a more traditional line-up in the Cup and Plate, but China beat Brazil in the Bowl final, two countries with large populations and massive untapped potential, a fact that will not be lost on the IOC.
Rugby Sevens is one of seven sports battling to be admitted to the 2016 Games, the host of which has yet to be decided. Rugby last featured in the Olympics in 1924 in the 15-a-side format having made its debut in 1900.
The IOC is now committed to having 28 sports in the 2016 Olympics, with rugby on a shortlist of sports for inclusion that includes baseball, softball, karate, squash, golf and roller sports.
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said here that the abbreviated form of rugby, which is played in the Asian and Commonwealth Games and will return to the Panamerican Games in 2011, was ideal for the Olympics.
"It was a tremendous sevens, a big tournament this year," the Frenchman said.
"This was a tremendous tournament this year for the men and women playing at the same time.
"Surprising finals for the men and confirmation for the women. It was a massive event that we have created in Dubai. I think it's a new step for the Sevens, a very important moment for the Sevens.
"We also had some delegates from the IOC here for this tournament and I am sure they were appreciative of what we have done.
"It was a very exciting event, a big crowd for the three days and the quality of the play. The men and women have put on a great event for rugby in the world."
Lapasset said that the action, watched by daily crowds of 30,000 at The Sevens Stadium and by a global television audience of millions, would provide a springboard for the women's game.
"The women's matches here showed just how competitive Sevens rugby can be," he said.
"In making history the players all demonstrated exceptional athletic skills but also a clear belief in rugby's traditional values of fair play, respect and friendship.
"Rugby Sevens is a modern sport that has proven appeal for young fans and television viewers around the world but it is also marked by tradition and innovation.
"Having the likes of Thailand, Brazil, China and Uganda competing with New Zealand, England, Spain and France in a Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament is a very exciting development for the game," added Lapasset.
Richie Pugh, who starred for Wales as they belied their 80/1 pre-tournament ranking to claim the scalps of New Zealand, Samoa and Argentina on the final day of play, urged that the sport be included in 2016 Games.
"Get Sevens in the Olympics," the international flanker said. "It's an awesome sport. It's been brilliant here in Dubai."
Hannah Porter, captain of the New Zealand team that lost 15-10 to Australia in the Cup final, said: "It's been a great atmosphere being with all the guys and playing in front of the big crowds.
"Hopefully it has sent out a good message to the Olympic people and I hope they make the right decision."