The rugby Olympians

The month of October 2009 has been historic for the sport of rugby. It became one of two new sports added to the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro. The good news is that rugby union is back in the Olympics. It is good news for every one who would love to have played in the Olympics. The opportunity to win a gold medal is now a reality as rugby takes its place in the sevens format.

What materialized today is the hard work that the IRB did. The successful re-introduction of Rugby into the Olympic Games was an objective of the Strategic Plan for the Game as agreed by all Member Unions.

The IRB believed the ideal form of Rugby for Olympic inclusion is Sevens. The key messages for reintroduction of Rugby at the Olympic Games included. Rugby reinforces the ideals of Olympics, thanks to Rugby’s long-standing ethos of fair play and friendship.

n Rugby Sevens would reach a new and young audience, including Rugby’s 3 million players in 116 countries and the tens of millions of fans worldwide.

n Rugby Sevens does not need a purpose built stadium and would fill an existing stadium, adding an additional vibrant and youthful tone for the Game.
Rugby will be part of Olympics from 2016

n Rugby Sevens would extend the number of potential medal-winning nations in what would be a true world championship. Countries that could aspire to Olympic success in Rugby include Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, South Africa, Kenya and New Zealand. • Rugby would increase funds to grow the Olympic Movement, by attracting new commercial partners and spectators. At the same time Rugby would enjoy increased funding and access to facilities from National Olympic Committees as an Olympic sport. (Source IRB).

Following an evaluation by the Olympic Program Commission the International Olympic Committee Session voted that Golf and Rugby sevens be included in the 2016 Olympics.

IOC president Jacques Rogge says, "Both Golf and Rugby are very popular sports with global appeal and a strong ethic. They will be great additions to the Games.

“I am so delighted and proud. My thanks to the IOC members for their wonderful support, Rugby is honoured to be a part of the Olympic Sports Programme and we are already looking forward to” Says International Rugby Board president Bernard Lapasset

I spoke to Hemasiri Fernando the Chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka who opined “It is a good thing that rugby is included. It is a popular sport in most countries and the inclusion is well justified. Powerful countries in the world play rugby and it is a sport that is fast getting popular in Asia.”
It is also good news for the grassroots of the game because as an Olympic Sport it now should have recognition along with twenty three other sports. Recognition possibly in some parts of the world would guarantee government funding to help development. However Fernando was of the view that this may not happen in Sri Lanka as other Olympic sports are not funded. However being recognized Olympic Sport, Rugby too will now be represented in the National Olympic Committee. It will receive all assistance and benefits that are currently available form the ministry of sports and the department of sports.

The recognition will also help in with the acceptance and promotion of rugby at the schools through the Ministry of Education. This will help in developing the sport at the mini and junior level.

In the reintroduction of rugby Kenya had a historical role to play. October 9th will be a day to remember for the Kenya national sevens team captain, Humphrey Kayange. He took to the podium in Copenhagen at the IOC Sessions. It was not about leading his men in defeating the likes of Fiji, New Zealand, England or South Africa. . The international Centre was there as part of the fifteen member team to present a simple yet decisive case to the world. He was to talk on the need to have rugby back to the Olympic Games. Kayange’s was a member of the team to promote the case headed by IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset; and included. Augustin Pichot, former captain of Argentinean Pumas’ at the last Rugby World Cup; Cheryl Soon, the captain of Australian woman team that won the Women Seven World Cup in Dubai; Anastasia Khanova, one of Kazakhstan’s top female players; and New Zealand rugby legend Jonah Lomu.

Kayange’s presentation prevailed, to earn rugby recognition as an Olympic Sport by a majority vote. Kayange captained Kenya’s team to great memories in the world of rugby sevens. . Winning the bid for rugby sevens would have been the best moment in his rugby life. Kayange and Kenya played a pivotal role in the historic feat.

Kayange, , will be in his forties when rugby sevens debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro..
Kayange met with the rest of the team, led by IRB president Lapasset and CEO Mike Miller, to discuss each person’s role in the presentation. Kayange was to talk about the development of rugby sevens in Africa and other smaller nations like Uruguay, Tonga and Thailand, with Kenya as the focal point. How defined their development programs are, and how they have managed to beat top sides in the sport.
Rugby and golf are no strangers to the Olympics. Golf was played in Paris in 1900 and four years later in St Louis, while rugby was played between 1900 and 1924, in the full 15-a-side format.

Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB.
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