Jewel in the crown - Hong Kong sets the gold standard
Take a bow, Hong Kong. The city's role in rugby sevens becoming an Olympic sport has been praised by IRB supremo Bernard Lapasset.
The International Rugby Board's efforts to globalise the game received a huge boost last October when rugby sevens was included in the summer programme for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a decision that IRB chairman Lapasset says will have a 'profound' impact on the game.
'Olympic Games inclusion will have a profound and positive effect on the growth of the game worldwide,' Lapasset said. 'The IRB wants to see the game grow into new markets, and rugby sevens via the Olympic Games platform is the perfect way to achieve this.'
Lapasset paid credit to the part the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens had played in the game being recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
'There is no doubt that Hong Kong, a globally renowned tournament with a rich history, played a prominent role in the Olympic Games campaign, along with all events on the IRB Sevens World Series,' Lapasset told the South China Morning Post. 'Rugby sevens is unique in the sense that it delivers highly competitive action, upsets, universality, entertainment and of course a great festival atmosphere, for which Hong Kong is famous.
'It is perfect for fans, perfect for broadcasters and perfect for sponsors. Hong Kong is a great role model,' Lapasset added.
After years of trying the IRB finally scored gold when it convinced the IOC the abbreviated version was tailormade for the Olympics.
The simpler form of the game is fast and exciting, draws rave crowds and, most of all, can be played at one venue and completed in three days. And the key factor this time was the growth in the women's game, with the first Women's World Cup in Dubai last March.
'We have 117 member unions and three million registered players, but there are 205 Olympic national federations, so we want to reach out and grow throughout the next decade,' Lapasset (pictured) said.
Lapasset, who played for French club Agen, winning the French junior championship in 1967, does not believe sevens will take over as the predominant form of the game, or that the 15-a-side World Cup will be overshadowed by the Olympics.
'Winning a gold medal at the Olympics will be the pinnacle for rugby sevens. It is something the global rugby family is excited about. What the Olympics does is offer the possibility of making rugby known all over the world,' he said.
'Already we are beginning to see results. Not only has the popularity of sevens further accelerated since the IOC's decision with visibly increased attendances and broadcast figures for the opening rounds of this season's IRB Sevens World Series, we are also witnessing significant developments in key new markets such as Asia and North America.'
The IRB chief confirmed the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens will be the last one - as the sport didn't want to detract any glory from the Olympics. 'The IRB is in the process of a major overhaul of the existing IRB Sevens Strategic Plan, a collaborative process with all unions that will outline the blueprint for the further growth of the game around the world.
'This overhaul will encompass qualifying structures, regional structures and also a review of the IRB Sevens World Series,' he said.
'The strategic plan will allow the game to grow in new markets and ensure that all 117 member unions can collaborate with their respective National Olympic Committees and have access to a structured development, tournament and qualifying pathway that optimises the effects of inclusion in the Olympics.
'We firmly believe there are meaningful opportunities ahead and indeed have already witnessed positive results since October 2009 such as in Russia, where rugby programmes are being developed within schools and across the country, and in China and Brazil where development programmes are being launched.
'We have been very warmly welcomed by members of the Olympic family who have clearly indicated they envision our contribution to the movement in many areas beyond the Games alone,' Lapasset added.
The money pumped into the Hong Kong economy by the Sevens
The revenue for the HKRFU from ticket sales and subscriptions from sponsors, patrons boxes and corporate boxes in last financial year (includes 2008 Bledisloe Cup)
The year the Sevens began
The total prize money (the winner receives US$100,000)
The most number of Cup wins by a team in Hong Kong - Fiji - which included the two World Cups in 1997 and 2005.
How old you have to be to get into the South Stand.
The number of Guinness girls at the stadium.
Cost of a South Stand rugby jersey
The number of kids and colts playing rugby in Hong Kong