International Rugby
Lapasset pinpoints Olympics as priority for 2009
December 29, 2008

International Rugby Board (IRB) chairman Bernard Lapasset has made rugby's re-introduction to the Olympics as one of his main priorities for the year ahead.

Lapasset, who celebrates one year as the sport's most powerful administrator next week, has pinpointed the return of rugby to the Olympic programme, the debate over the Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) and the decision on the hosts for the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups as key events in the next 12 months.

"The vote on which sports, if any, will be added to the Olympic Games for 2016 takes place in October," Lapasset told The Independent on Sunday. "This year is a very important one for rugby to take a big step in its development, as we are growing more and more professional. There are three key issues, and the first of these is to be in the Olympics. There are 205 national Olympic committees and we need to grow the game around the world."

Lapasset is also determined to protect the game's "specificity" and believes the continuing adaptation of rugby's regulations is a key factor in its development.

"And the third priority is to name the hosts for Rugby World Cup 2015 and 2019 [in June], and be well-positioned for sponsorship, TV and commercial programmes."

Significantly Lapasset also did not rule out a further reduction in the guarantee required from tendering unions, given the "difficult" global economy.

Lapasset has spear-headed the campaign to introduce 7s rugby to the Olympics and has strong ties to the multi-sport event having been vice-chairman of France's Olympic Committee for 20 years. The newspaper also reports that he has known Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee's president, since Rogge was a teenaged flanker playing for Belgium.

"The problem is not just Jacques, the problem is to convince all 117 IOC members," said Lapasset, who led a presentation to the IOC in Lausanne in November. A final presentation to the IOC executive will take place in June before the October vote in Copenhagen.

Rugby has not featured in the Games since 1924 and has since been refused re-entry three times and there are several other sports vying with them for a maximum of two spots - squash, baseball, softball, karate, golf and roller sports.

"The perception of rugby changed after the 2007 World Cup in France," said Lapasset. "I went to Beijing last summer and met about 80 IOC members. They said the World Cup presented a fantastic picture of camaraderie, respect and big crowds enjoying themselves. Four or five years ago they used to say, 'Oh, rugby, it's just a game for the gentleman, and the English-speaking gentleman at that'."

Lapasset is also keen to unlock the valuable funding for the sport that will come with Olympic status. "It is important for the IOC that small countries like Fiji could be competing for a gold medal," added Lapasset. "We propose three days of rugby involving teams from every continent in full stadiums, with young sportsmen and women playing with fun."


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