WELLINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The rugby sevens World Cup in June will be one of the most important indicators for the success of the sport’s debut at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, the International Rugby Board’s tournament manager has said.
“Moscow is going to be very interesting,” IRB tournaments manager Beth Coalter told Reuters at Wellington Regional Stadium, where the fourth round of the men’s sevens world series was being played.
“Where the teams finish will determine the funding they get from their National Olympic Committees to go through to Rio,” she added of the sixth edition of the sevens World Cup that will be played in Moscow from June 28-30.
“They do need to make sure that they’re up there, that they’re world class and competitive. And a medal chance.”
Rugby was last played at the Paris Games in 1924 in the full 15-a-side form, but the shortened form has been included for the 2016 Rio Games because it was deemed an attractive option for the IOC due to its speed, youth appeal and the number of countries competing around the world.
“We need to build on the best teams that will compete in 2016. That’s the goal,” Coalter added.
”We need to make sure that when we get there we have built the best, most competitive, entertaining, exciting competition going.
“We have only got two (Olympic cycles) 2016, 2020 to show how brilliant this sport is so we need to make sure we have the best teams around.”
The IRB implemented a women’s sevens series, with the second tournament in Houston this weekend, to ensure that the women’s game would also develop in time for the Rio Games.
Prior to the first tournament of the series last November in Dubai, there had been little women’s sevens at the international level since the last World Cup in 2009.
“We really needed to get the girls having international competition,” Coalter added.
“It has been very hard to rank the girls because they have not had any games since 2009 and the difference in standard is very marked.”
Rankings from the Houston tournament would help determine seedings for the 16-team women’s tournament in Moscow, while the 24-men’s teams will cement their seedings after the Las Vegas round of the series next week.
The IRB’s desire to grow the 15-man code outside of its traditional strongholds in Oceania and the Six Nations, had been one of the reasons behind the push to join the Olympics, and Coalter said they were witnessing real growth in the sport, particularly among women.
”There has been phenomenal growth in (non-traditional rugby markets) Russia, China. There was 150 media to see the Japanese women’s sevens team (leave for) their tournament in Houston.
”They’re sending a television crew to Houston, so that’s huge.
”In Europe they have had competitions for many years but the skills haven’t been that great. But now there are better coaches, better trainers coming through and the high performance directors are including them in their programmes.
”So, 2016 is going to be very interesting. It’s still a bit of an unknown, but once we get through that then I think there will be a huge growth in rugby across all areas.
“The women’s game, the sevens and the 15s.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)