Rio inclusion helping rugby to grow globally: IRB chief
LONDON (Reuters) - The decision to include seven-a-side rugby in the next Olympics is already helping the game to grow in some of the world's most important developing markets, the head of the International Rugby Board said on Wednesday.
Rugby union and golf will both become Olympic sports in Rio in 2016. In the case of rugby, it is the quick fix of sevens rather than the longer, 15-player game that will feature and there will be events for both men and women.
The prospect of a place in the Olympics was helping rugby to conquer new frontiers, with the sport now on free-to-air television in the United States, said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.
"It is the key that has unlocked the door to participation in emerging and new rugby markets," Lapasset said.
"Rugby is now in schools in Russia, the host of Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2013, in China, India, Brazil and Mexico."
The IRB is investing 150 million pounds over four years to support development in these markets.
Rugby is played mainly in Britain and Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Argentina is its chief outpost in Latin America.
The IRB is hoping that rugby will expand in Brazil itself where soccer has long been the national game.
"We are working in Brazil to ensure that the national men's and women's sevens teams are competitive ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games qualification," said Lapasset.
Tries are plentiful in seven-a-side rugby because the players quickly get spread out across a pitch normally tightly defended by 15 players. Matches are only 14 minutes long, but the game is fast and physically grueling.
The IRB will finalize the qualifying format for teams to get to Rio in 2014 in coordination with the International Olympic Committee.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury, For all the latest Olympic news go to here)