At last! And no less than the sport deserves. Rugby Sevens will prove to be, as it has done in every regional and continental tournament for the last decade, a highlight of the Olympic Games. It's just a pity that we have to wait until Rio in 2016, and not witness the thrill of a packed Twickenham for two days during the London Games of 2012.
“The Voice of Sevens” is back once again to give his exclusive thoughts on Sevens' Olympic entry!
At last! And no less than the sport deserves. Rugby Sevens will prove to be, as it has done in every regional and continental tournament for the last decade, a highlight of the Olympic Games.
It's just a pity that we have to wait until Rio in 2016, and not witness the thrill of a packed Twickenham for two days during the London Games of 2012.
I have been appalled, though not surprised, by an element of our principal rugby writers who have given rugby's Olympic status such a lukewarm welcome. Put it down to a mix of ignorance and personal vested interests in the fifteen-a-side game, on a par with the earlier attitude of some of our established national rugby unions.
In the sixty or so IRB Sevens World Series tournaments that I have attended around the world these last seven years, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of top rugby journalists and leading lights of the 'major unions' who have even been at one World Sevens event. I hope that will change .
Have both parties failed to recognise the need to motivate youngsters within their own domain to take up and participate in rugby? This particularly at a time when the bed-rock of the game (the small local rugby clubs) are unable to call upon the same number of active players and field the same number of teams of twenty years ago.
Instead it seems that the obsession has been to promote the spectator base by funding to an extraordinary degree, and thus keeping alive , the top professional club structure.
This is a game which is only available to full-time participants who are often required to be beyond six feet tall and sixteen stone, with half of whom are not even qualified by nationality to play for the country within which they ply their trade.
More significant still is the failure of these same people to understand the need to consider the well-being and expansion of the global game of rugby.
"Rugby should look to get the developing nations in with a chance of winning a World Cup", said one writer last week-end.
Sounds good- but get real! First things first! Not in the near future, not even in his lifetime is there the remotest possibility of that coming to pass in fifteens, unless you first attract recruits to the game in the 'developing' nations.
The fundamental issue is to get and keep boys, girls, men and women putting on a pair of rugby boots and playing rugby throughout the world.
And this is where Sevens scores over fifteens hands down.
It is already a global sport in which Kenya can beat New Zealand, Cook Islands beat England and USA can beat Fiji. And why? Because of the attraction of Sevens for that very reason: that every nation is 'in with a chance', that every nation is, or can quickly become, competitive at an international level.
It is here and now, not some distant dream for another generation; Sevens makes it possible. And with the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympic schedule, just watch the advances made by these 'developing ' nations over the next seven years.
The spectator appeal and simplicity of the Sevens game itself- to watch first and then to play- is its trump card.
The comparative ease with which one can put together a Seven-a-side squad, as opposed to fifteen is obvious enough, whether in the local park in Michigan or Minsk, in the wasteland spaces of Kampala or Colombo, or on the palm-fringed beaches of Thailand or Tonga.
It is an easy game to learn or to follow, and at its heart is the joy of running and passing the ball and scoring tries. It is that emphasis which sets it apart. Of course specialist 'technical' matters of scrum, line-out and defence patterns, and so on, come later, but the fundamentals remain- tackle, run and pass.
Fifteens is so much more complex, and increasingly, it seems, success on the field is allied to physical presence, strength and the power of its player ingredients. These are worthy qualities and to a degree are also required in Sevens, but somehow lacking the universal appeal of the magical skills of a Serevi, an Uale Mai or a Ben Gollings.
The inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympic fold, and the higher profile that will accompany it, will bring huge benefits over the next decade and not just for Sevens.
We must take away our blinkers to view the global perspective. It may come from the fact that Olympic sports bring grants from national Olympic committees, where previously funding may never have been considered.
Equally in some countries, and Russia is a typical case in point, only Olympic sports can be included in the sporting curriculum within school. And to be initiated into the fun and healthy activity of rugby itself.
With the fifteen-a -side game often a daunting prospect for some girls, boys, parents and teachers, how simple to gravitate from tag and touch rugby to Sevens, with class and age-group practice and competitions and inter-school events.
Likewise the chance of competing in an Olympics, let alone the possibility of winning an Olympic medal, will surely fire the enthusiasm and commitment of thousands upon thousands of individual players, and, indeed inspire their own national rugby union administrators.
As with all sport, it is the taking part that counts. And when it comes to ascending the Sevens medal rostrum it could even be a Samoa or Portugal in the men's event, or maybe a Brazil or Kazakhstan for the women, celebrating a rare or first-ever Olympic accolade.
Sevens is now rightly in the sporting spotlight. The coming season of the IRB Sevens World Series, and eventually the Olympic qualifying tournaments, will bring a new focus and further enhance the global interest in Rugby.
Remember participation already extends to 100 nations in men's Sevens, of which more than 80 entered recent the Rugby World Cup Sevens, whilst there were 80 entries for the women's event which ran concurrently in Dubai last March.
Hopefully, and especially in this corner of the world, the sport will finally be recognized for what it is. It’s a brilliant activity in its own right with specialist skills and specialist players.
Not just as a side-show to fifteens, a stepping-stone- an " amusing divertissement" as one journalist patronisingly recently described it.
Whatever else by way of criticism may be thrown at Sevens, it’s a version of rugby that acted as a proving ground for younger players. 50% of all back-row and back-line players in the Rugby World Cup (fifteens) held in France in 2007 cut their teeth on the exposed Sevens field. Hardly warrants such a scathing criticism!
Traditionalist supporters of rugby may, underneath, be fearful for their own selfish reasons of the surge in public interest in Sevens that will ensue.
They have no need to. Sevens advances will continue to bring new recruits to rugby across the world. Watch for the impact in Beijing and Tbilisi, in Suva and Lisbon, in L.A. and Delhi.
But now things move on as I have always thought, and IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset confirmed this week in a Midi Olympique interview, the likelihood is that before too long at international level there will be separate squads for Olympic rugby athletes and fifteens' specialists.
But remember both are rugby, just as 20/20, one-day internationals and 5-day tests are all a part of cricket. Similarly some will prefer one version to the other but will still enjoy playing and watching both, as I do.
So, the new IRB Sevens World Series will soon be upon us with a new aura surrounding it. Get ready for the excitement, mercurial attacking skills, courageous defence, incredible fitness levels, the uncertainties and spectator appeal that captivates. I have never seen a boring event.
Bernard Lapasset and the IRB have delivered a real shot in the arm to the whole world of rugby.