rio olympics

As rugby proves smash hit at the Olympics, sport’s chief says it owes a massive debt to Hong Kong Sevens for that success

Brett Gosper lauds flagship Hong Kong Sevens as the model in bringing the sport to the Games

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 2:14pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 12:11am

Rugby is at the Olympics to stay, the sport’s top man told the Post in Rio – and it couldn’t have happened without the Hong Kong Sevens.

Brett Gosper, World Rugby’s chief executive, promised a “Hong Kong Sevens experience” for fans at Tokyo 2020, and was confident the sport would remain at the Games long beyond that after the success of its debut in Brazil.

Fiji won the men’s gold medal – as every neutral wanted – to cap six successful days that had Gosper purring.

WATCH: golden moments on Day 6 at the Rio Olympics

“The Hong Kong Sevens has been the flagship event for some time and it is the event we point to when we try to show what the Olympics can be,” he said on the sidelines at the temporary stadium in Rio’s Deodoro area that hosted the action.

“We’ve always been able to take IOC members and people who are discovering the sport to a place like Hong Kong and show them what the Olympics could one day be – and this is confirming that.

“Hong Kong has had a very important role in establishing ourselves as an Olympics sport.

“And for the players themselves who love going to Hong Kong, that I guess in many ways is the pinnacle of sevens rugby to win a Hong Kong tournament, and it’s a great training run for them to now be at Olympic finals stage and thinking ‘here’s another big occasion’.”

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Gosper said bringing IOC officials to see the Hong Kong Sevens had been key to the sport’s inclusion – and revealed that they have continued to do so since, in case Rio didn’t turn out as hoped.

“You never know how it will go in Rio, you want them to understand, beyond whatever success we might have here, that this is an amazing, established sport which is good for the Olympics – and as it turned out Rio has been amazing but [the Hong Kong trips] added to the general culture of people coming and watching sevens.”

The IOC will decide next year what sports remain on the programme for future Olympics, and Gosper was confident that Sevens will stay.

WATCH: relive the action involving Hong Kong athletes on Day 6 at the Rio Olympics

“I think it’s been very, very strongly received,” he said. “Obviously it’s important for us that the IOC believe this is a strong proposition for the Olympics and that’s the feeling we’re getting back from them.

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“We’ve had a lot of visits from IOC members, certainly the media seem to have embraced it as an Olympic sport, and we’re seeing incredibly positive reviews around the world.

“That’s what is great about the Olympics, it takes us outside our traditional geographic comfort zone and we’re seeing a lot of positivity around the world and are very happy.”

The temporary Deodoro Stadium was hardly an awesome stage, but neither Gosper nor the 12,000 or so fans who packed the rickety scaffolding stands cared.

In Japan in four years’ time, the rugby will be held in Tokyo Stadium, with Gosper promising a HK-like experience.

“We gear up for that for Tokyo, we could have started our Olympic journey in London, could have filled Twickenham twice a day for sure, but the Olympics is a development play for us so we’re happy to be here in Rio,” he said.

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“Seeing rugby projected out of its traditional context is a good thing for us also in this market, we’ve had some great development.

“In Tokyo we know we’re going to be in a 45,000 seat stadium, going to have to fill that twice a day so it will be very much a Hong Kong Sevens experience in Tokyo.”