Lapasset delighted by rugby sevens debut at Youth Games
NANJING China (Reuters) - International Rugby Board (IRB) President Bernard Lapasset described the debut of rugby sevens at the Youth Olympics as a "huge moment" for the sport and said IOC President Thomas Bach had been impressed by the quality on show in Nanjing.
Rugby sevens and golf have been added to the Olympic schedule for the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games. Rugby last appeared at an Olympics in the 1924 Games in Paris.
Lapasset's France won the men's gold medal at the Youth Games in China while Australia took the women's title after going though the tournament unbeaten.
"It is a huge moment for rugby," the Games official website quoted Lapasset as saying.
"Thomas Bach was very impressed by the quality of the tournament. He said it was very fast and strong, and he said it will be a key sport for the Olympics."
Established rugby powers such as New Zealand and Australia will be the front runners for gold in Rio but Lapasset said the sport of sevens had spread to previously untapped markets.
"All the NOCs (National Olympic Committees) work at sevens now, that is new," the 66-year-old added.
"We have more and more regional tournaments. Recently I was in Peru and Bolivia. It is fantastic, these are new countries for sevens.
"We are in discussions with the Caribbean zone. I was in Jamaica and the guys were saying, ‘Bernard, we have good runners in Jamaica, we are strong and fast'. And of course rugby is fantastic for that."
Preparations for the Rio Olympics, the first Games on the South American continent, have been plagued by delays, rising costs and bad communication between different levels of the Brazilian government and organisers.
However, recent progress reports have been more promising and Lapasset said that while he was extremely concerned about rugby's venue in the early stages those fears have receded.
"I was very upset because when we started discussions the guys in Rio promised us a lot," he said.
"For instance, the most important thing for us is not just the pitch, it is the facilities surrounding it – we need to invite the fans to come for the day, not just for the games, because the city centre is far away.
"I am much more confident now they know what we want. The FIFA World Cup was very well organised, they presented it very well and the quality of the event was good."
Lapasset said it was important for rugby sevens to make a good first impression in its Olympic debut, as the sport would have to continue to earn its place on the programme.
"We have two Olympics guaranteed and after that we have to come back and see if we will continue or not – that is the challenge for us."
(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Seoul; Editing by Patrick Johnston)
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