(ATR) Bill Beaumont believes rugby sevens Olympic return in Rio bodes well for the Tokyo Olympics.
Australia's women and Fiji’s men won rugby's first gold medals – the Pacific island nation’s first ever Olympic medal – in 92 years as the sevens format proved to be a compelling and dramatic addition to the Rio Games.
Beaumont said he was "extremely positive" that the tournament would help spike interest in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and at the 2020 Olympics.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for the game of rugby to develop outside the traditional heartland. We are looking to expand it globally as best we can," he said at a press conference in Rio.
"You only have to see the interest in rugby in Japan… the huge growth on the back of their success in the sport."
Beaumont said rugby’s first Olympics since 1924 is "a game-changer for our sport, inspiring a new generation of players and fans".
"Since being voted back on to the program in 2009, we have seen participation double to 7.73 million and we are determined to maximise the Rio 2016 halo effect."
Beaumont said World Rugby was planning to "expand sensibly where we can get sustainable growth in the game".
"We want to be here in Brazil in 10 years time and the Olympic Games is a catalyst to establish the game here," added the former England captain.
While rugby sevens is acclaimed by many as one of the success stories of the Rio Olympics, rugby’s inclusion after Tokyo 2020 is not certain. All 28 sports will be reviewed after Rio, scored on various criteria.
Beaumont and World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper told reporters in Rio they were confident rugby sevens would score well in the IOC’s analysis of the sports program, which will take place over the coming year. Criteria will likely include ticket sales, attendances, broadcast ratings, atmosphere and impact on social media.
"It’s an exciting product, [the Olympics] gives us an opportunity to open it up so much more to the world," Beaumont said.
"I have seen the skill set of a sevens player. I have seen the excitement and the enjoyment people get out of the game and also the fan engagement, the carnival atmosphere you get at sevens tournaments," he added.
Asked if the sevens format would compete for people’s interest in the traditional 15-a-side game, the federation leader insisted the two could co-exist and appeal to different demographics."I don’t see one as competition for the other. I think they will enhance and expand the game," he said, adding that boys and girls might get into the sport through sevens before graduating to the longer format.
Agustin Pichot , World Rugby vice-president and former Argentina captain, said the IOC was "on the same page" as rugby in wanting a fast, dynamic sport at the Olympics
"Being here in a Latin American country is a great statement. It is one of the top things in the evolution of rugby in the last 20 years. We hope to keep on the pace," he said.
World Rugby’s road to Tokyo 2020 begins later this year with the top men's and women's teams taking part in the Dubai opener of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Reported by Mark Bisson
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