Rugby leaders are counting on the success of Fiji’s men and Australia’s women at the Rio Olympics to break down more barriers for the sport and cement its place in Tokyo 2020 and beyond.
The sight of Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau dancing past beleaguered British defenders bringing another country a first gold medal is a boost for the Olympics and rugby’s future.
“In rugby you tend to think that we know it all,” World Rugby president Bill Beaumont said after watching Fiji trounce Britain 43-7 in the men’s final on Thursday.
“Then you come to events that are far bigger than anything we normally stage and to be a part of it has been fantastic and for us to show the Olympic family what we can do with our sport.”
Men and women’s sevens tournaments, ran over six days, marked the first time since 1924 that rugby has been played at the Olympics. The previous four tournaments were 15-a-side.
While the temporary 15,000-seater Deodoro Stadium remained half-empty for earlier women’s sessions, ticket sales gradually picked up, spiking the atmosphere.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said getting a foothold in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) door was the best thing that has happened to rugby.
“Already the Olympics is providing us more money into the sport through NOCs (National Olympic Committees) and governments. This is the best advertisement we could have for the game across the board,” Gosper said.
Rugby is anxious to find new markets like Brazil, the land of football. World Rugby hopes that its World Cup in 2019 followed by the Tokyo Olympics will sign new converts.
Brazil’s women finished ninth, getting a place as a core team on next season’s Sevens World Series. Beaumont said even the men had been competitive.
“We’ve had the opportunity and we thank the IOC for that. We’ve got Tokyo in four years’ time, a year after the Rugby World Cup in Japan so I can only see rugby expanding in both forms of the game, both 15-a-side and sevens.
“Hopefully it’s been the catalyst in South America with coming here and when we go to Tokyo it will enable us to expand the game more in Asia.”
Beaumont said World Rugby’s hopes of seeing sevens being accepted as a core Olympic sport will be decided at an IOC general session in Lima in 2017.
“There’s noone in World Rugby conceited enough to think we have a divine right to be here but hopefully we’ve showcased our sport on the world stage,” the former captain of England and the British and Irish Lions said.
“If you think about the semi-finals there were countries from Asia, Europe, Oceania and Africa (Japan, Britain, Fiji, South Africa). If my geography’s any good, that’s not bad for a global game so from that point of view that’s been good.
“Hopefully we’ve earned the right to be a permanent sport and we’ll be trying like mad to retain our status.”
Beaumont said everyone at the Olympics had been “nothing but encouraging”.
Japan’s men pulled off a shock result with a 14-12 victory over New Zealand in their opening match. That echoed the Brave Blossoms’ famous victory over South Africa in the 15-a-side World Cup last year, the biggest upset the sport has seen.
It could not have been better scripted for World Rugby, with the next World Cup in Japan.
“It’s fantastic what Japan have done in this tournament,” Beaumont said.
“They are the team to watch. They’ve been spectacular, the rugby they play.
“On the back of how well they did in the 15-a-side game last year in England. It’s been phenomenal how they’ve performed.
“Japan becoming a real powerhouse in world rugby will grow the game even bigger in Japan and throughout Asia. They could be the role model for many countries which want to play the game.”
Gosper said there was talk about rugby sevens being played at the 45,000-capacity Ajinomoto Stadium at the Tokyo Games.
“That would be two sessions a day, each at 45,000. Success here for Japan is great for the excitement as we build toward 2020,” Gosper said.