Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Greatest Show on Earth

Four years has, somewhat unbelievably, passed since London 2012 and here we are again as the Greatest Show on Earth – the Olympic Games – arrives in Rio.

And this time there really is something to get excited about as Rugby returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1924.

Ok, so it’s Rugby Sevens and not “real” Rugby (see previous rants on that particular subject), but nevertheless it’s difficult not to get excited about the fact that, probably for the first time, Rugby will be exposed to a truly global audience.

There is no doubt the inclusion of Sevens in the Olympics has the potential to change the landscape of the game. For many countries, it’s an opportunity to break into the upper echelons of the sport without the huge infrastructure investment required to succeed in the XVs version of the game. Six different countries winning events in last season’s World 7s Series bears testament to this, with the likes of Kenya (and even Scotland :) ) picking up victories. Who will win the Olympic title is therefore anyone’s guess.

Olympic inclusion also means that countries hitherto uninterested in Rugby may decide that investing in the sport is now worthwhile. Olympic host Brazil, for example, has seen a rugby development programme already reach 175,000 players, coaches and young match officials since its launch last year, while earlier this year China announced a plan to develop mass participation with the aim of having 1 million rugby players in China by 2026.

The Olympics will undoubtedly help grow Rugby worldwide. The direction in which it grows, however, is (at least for me) a cause for concern. As more countries embrace Sevens, is there a danger that the XVs game will remain the preserve of the powerful few and will cease to grow, effectively stagnating as its popular little brother goes from strength to strength?

Still, all things considered that’s probably a concern for another day. For now I intend to sit back, crack open a beer and enjoy the Greatest Show on Earth.

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