Hong Kong Sevens

Hong Kong Sevens catalyst to the game at Rio Olympics, says Sebastian Coe

Former champion runner says the atmosphere and excitement helps it connect to young people

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 6:54pm

Sebastian Coe has few, if any, regrets about London 2012, but the man behind one of the most successful Games in recent memory admits he would have loved to have seen rugby sevens at a packed Olympic Stadium.

The man who helped London win the Games and then delivered a successful event, is in Hong Kong this week on various missions - as chairman of a marketing company, liaising with its Asian arm; as London's "Legacy Ambassador", speaking to the British Chamber of Commerce; and as chairman of the British Olympic Association, meeting his Hong Kong counterpart, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting - but the most enjoyable will likely be his visit to the Hong Kong Sevens.

Asked what the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics will mean for the event and the sport - it joins in Rio 2016 - Coe (pictured) is in no doubt:

"I think it will have a big impact. I was sorry that we didn't have the opportunity to host it in London. I think that would have been a fantastic spectacle," he said yesterday.

"I've been in Rio recently and everybody is excited about it and they are going to be really up for it. I think it's an exciting time for the game and I don't think there's any question that the Hong Kong Sevens was a catalyst: I think a lot of IOC delegates looked at the atmosphere and the physicality of the game and saw it as one of those games that could connect in an even bigger way with young people."

Coe was well aware of the sport as a student at Loughborough University in the 1970s, pointing out that a lot of future England internationals honed their skills in the short form of the game at the Middlesex Sevens.

Having won two Olympic golds in the '80s and inspired a generation of British athletes, Coe believes sevens' Rio bow will be a "coming of age" moment for the sport, and likens it to events such as snowboard cross in the Winter Games in its potential to thrill a whole new audience.

"The challenge of sport in the 20th century was about connecting sport to the world, the challenge of the 21st century is connecting young people to sport," he said. "I think [sevens] has got huge potential [in that regard].

"There is a debate that the purists would have and say that sports that have bigger moments outside of the games should not be there. There was a bit of an argument around tennis, football, golf. My instinct is that the IOC tend to get it right on these. You do need to continually engage young people with sports that are on their radar screen.

"Interestingly, some of the bigger audiences are often around the Winter Games where there's often that X-factor, if you look at the way the Winter Games has developed over the last few years, a lot of those sports are getting a younger profile."

As someone keen, in most of his many roles, to get as many young people involved in sport as possible, Coe also believes sevens' greater emphasis on skill and speed rather than pure bulk will help it gain a new generation of converts after Rio.

"The physicality of 15s means that there are some physical types that are simply never going to play that game - I think it gives a better bandwidth to young people who are looking at 15s and seeing big guys and thinking, 'Well, I'm never going to play that game.' I'm no rugby expert but it's very clear to me in the way that rugby has changed in the last few years that there is an argument about how physical the game can get, the size of people playing the game. That balance between physicality, expertise, flexibility and all that sort of thing, I think Sevens meets that well."

Coe later engaged in a round-table discussion with representatives of the IRB and sponsors HSBC, Trevor Gregory of the HKRFU, sevens legend Waisale Serevi and select members of the media.

He insisted Sevens' seemingly inexorable global expansion need not detract from 15s.

"It's not unusual for sports to have various derivates - track and field has indoors and outdoors, the purist argument was would that remove the glamour of the big one-day meets in Europe? Actually it didn't, it brought Americans into track and field in a way that they weren't previously.

"Basketball experimented with 3on3 at the Youth Olympics and I know Fiba are now closely looking at that. I think the IOC and a lot of my colleagues saw the Sevens an opportunity to freshen the Olympic programme, to bring kids in from parts of the world where Sevens really does mean something and an opportunity to globalise rugby itself."