by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Rugby had a good day last week when the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board recommended Sevens to be adopted for the 2016 Summer Games. Rugby and the Olympic Games has a real physical presence for us here in the Doc Hudson Fieldhouse with the French and U.S. jerseys from the 1924 Gold Medal match on permanent display.
Although the decision for rugby’s inclusion won’t be finalized until the International Olympic members vote on October 9th with 50 percent of the members plus one voting “yes”, the Executive Board’s decision speaks volumes as to how the vote in October should go.
If there is a successful October vote to include rugby, it will have a significant impact on how our game is viewed by the American public. We could experience an increase in the quantity and quality of the athletes who would be interested in learning how to play, and the level of professional resources that our best players would be able to access. It goes without saying the performance expectations of the U.S.A. team would dramatically increase. As a nation, we historically do pretty well in the medal count at the Summer Games.
I can remember telling a family friend during the dead of the 1989 Iowa winter that the reason I was running so hard in the snow was in preparations to compete for the U.S. in the Hong Kong Sevens. They innocently shrugged, not having any knowledge of the size and scope of the Hong Kong Sevens. Fast forward that same discussion to 2015 where a rugby player might be able to say, “I am in training at the Olympic Training Center with my teammates in preparations for Summers Olympic Games”. Every American would understand that, and this is why Olympic inclusion would be a “game changer” for rugby in the United States.
Of course, as we begin to lick our chops in anticipation of inclusion to the 2016 Summer Olympics, we should not assume anything, even though I doubt the International Rugby Board will allow this momentum to slip through their grasp. The “don’t count your chickens” analogy is applicable.
Here in America, the five Olympic rings resonant with a high school and university athletic directors, and that will likely provide a platform for discussions about having rugby on more high school and university campuses.
Being an Olympic sport would provide exposure and growth opportunities, but clearly the responsibility of raising the standards of rugby still lies in the hands of current participants and administrators. Everyone associated with the game will share responsibility for improving the quality of rugby in America, just as they will benefit from being associated with an Olympic sport.
Olympic inclusion itself will not immediately fix a team’s lack of a medical emergency plan, motely uniforms, or ill prepared players. What inclusion to the Summer Games will do is accelerate American rugby’s urgency to become better administratively organized and improve the quality of play. Hopefully a successful October vote will begin a change in our current course.
The recent Executive Committee vote should serve as a good day for anyone who would like to see rugby better integrated into our existing American sport landscape. The major question before USA Rugby is whether the current administration has the domestic understanding to leverage Olympic status into improved growth opportunities on high school and college campuses.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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