CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: The ceo of World Rugby has said he is “confident” rugby sevens can retain a place in the Olympic Games after what he declared a successful inaugural competition at Rio 2016.
Rugby returned the Olympic fold this year in its shortened sevens format after a 92-year absence. , and Brett Gosper spoke to iSportconnect after the competition finished at Rio’s Deodoro Stadium last week. Australia won gold in the women’s event and Fiji won their first ever Olympic medal by triumphing in the men’s edition.
Having witnessed history being made in the first South American Games, Gosper said that World Rugby was very pleased with how the competition went in Rio despite a few early concerns.
Gosper said: “From our standpoint, it was a very successful event. We had pretty full stadia, spectacular rugby, a good storyline in how the results turned out and we were very pleased with the media reaction. There was lots of positive articles and positive interactions on social media.
“So judging it on all that criteria, it was a very successful Games.”
Brazil not being a traditional rugby nation – the national side has never qualified for a rugby world cup – Gosper did admit that there were some early concerns about the local attitude towards the competition, especially when the first two days of the women’s competition saw plenty of empty seats.
He said: “The first two days were a little soft, I think we were around 65 per cent capacity on day two. But it did pick up for the last four days where we were around 85-95pc full. So we were in comparatively good shape in regards to other sports.”
Gosper’s last point refers to the number of empty seats that have been seen across most of the venues at the Games so far, even for high profile events such as athletics. Sometimes this has been down to the insistence of the Rio 2016 organizing committee upon selling tickets at fixed prices right up until the last minute.
On other occasions, logistical problems have come into play including at the Deodoro where Gosper admits there were transport issues and the security system failed on the first days providing problems for people getting into the venue.
He said: “There were teething problems. But they were ironed out pretty quickly. It was a story of the first couple of days but then things seemed to find their rhythm.”
The World Rugby executive, who helped oversee the governing body’s rebranding in 2014, added that the rugby family was very pleased with the stadium provided.
In four years’ time though in Tokyo there will be an even bigger stadium to fill, and a bigger opportunity for rugby to share more of the limelight at the Games.
The Tokyo Olympics will take place a year after Japan plays host to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The venue proposed for rugby sevens is the 45,000-capacity Ajinomoto Stadium and with the country already a traditional rugby nation Gosper is hopeful Rio and Tokyo success can lead on to further Olympic rugby competitions.
Gosper said: “The venue proposed is a 45,000-seater, so that’s a lot! We have to do our review from Rio and see if we’re happy with six days of competition with two sessions a day. Assuming it’s a similar format, we’d have to get 90,000 in every day over six days, which is ambitious but doable.”
On rugby’s future, to be decided along with all other Olympic sports at the IOC session in Lima next year, Gosper said: “We’re confident rugby has demonstrated a great contribution to the Olympic movement and so we’re confident of retaining a place in the Games.”