Women ‘hold key to the Olympics’
Girls, girls, girls - rugby worldwide will encourage more of the fairer sex to play the game, for it is in their hands that the sport's fate lies as it bids to become an Olympic medal sport.
'The importance of women in rugby cannot be underestimated,' said Beth Coalter, IRB Sevens manager. 'They hold the key to rugby's inclusion in the Olympics. Next year's inaugural World Cup Sevens for women is a step in that direction.'
Coalter (pictured), who is in town for the Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens later this month, flew in from Jordan, where she attended the 4th IOC Conference on Women and Sport last weekend.
Delegates from more than 115 federations at the International Olympic Committee get-together were informed about the sport's progress in its attempt to win Olympic recognition.
'A large number were not aware that a women's World Cup in sevens would be played next year in Dubai. In fact rugby is the first sport to have World Cups for both men and women at the same time and at the same venue,' Coalter said.
'The World Cup will not only raise the awareness of women in the game, and grow the sport, but it will also benefit rugby's bid to get into the Olympics,' she added.
The International Rugby Board was shaken out of its complacency three years ago in Singapore when the IOC Congress voted against the inclusion of rugby sevens as a medal sport at the 2012 Olympics.
Squash and karate edged out rugby as the replacements for baseball and softball - both of which will be played for the last time in Beijing - but then failed to get a required two-thirds majority in the final vote which was needed to seal the Olympic berths. This will leave the 2012 Games in London with only 26 sports.
Now all aspiring sports are gearing up for another tilt at the Olympic windmills - the IOC Congress will meet to vote on two new sports next year in Copenhagen. Rugby wants to make certain that it won't be caught flat-footed like last time, with the IRB pushing for the development of the women's game.
'Women's rugby has come a long way. The game is established in 83 unions around the world, including Hong Kong, and all of them will play in the qualifying tournament for the Dubai World Cup,' Coalter said.
'The World Cup will be for 16 teams and everyone will have to qualify. There won't be any automatic entries as this is the first time we are holding one. Even the host union, the Arabian Gulf, won't get a guaranteed berth,' she added.
The Amman IOC conference had also recommended that it be mandatory that all international federations have a woman on the executive committee. The IRB executive is presently an all-male domain.