15 October 2009
The International Olympic Committee’s decision, made in Copenhagen on Friday, to include golf and seven-a-side rugby in the 2016 Olympic Games has lifted South Africa’s medal hopes – and given the game of rugby in particular a big international boost.
Given the standard of both rugby and golf in South Africa, it’s understandable that the country should welcome the decision.
Rugby: SA’s most successful year
South Africa ended New Zealand’s and Fiji’s domination of the IRB Sevens Series in 2008/09, claiming the title for the first time.
Add to this the finest season a country has ever enjoyed in international rugby, with the world number one ranked Springboks winning a series against the British and Irish Lions and lifting the 2009 Tri-Nations. Their Tri-Nations triumph included five victories in six matches against the teams ranked second and third in the world: New Zealand and Australia.
South Africa’s Bulls also captured the southern hemisphere’s regional Super 14 title, thrashing New Zealand’s Chiefs by a record margin of 61-17 in the final.
Who’s the defending Olympic champion?
The vote on rugby in Copenhagen went overwhelmingly in favour of the sport’s inclusion in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, by 81 to 8 with one abstention.
A trivia question that will undoubtedly become popular in the lead-up to Rio is: Which country is the defending Olympic rugby champion? It’s not the answer one might expect: the sport was last played in the Olympics in 1924, when the USA claimed gold by beating France 17-3 in the final.
It’s unlikely that the Americans will successfully defend their title in Brazil. They might not even qualify to participate in Rio, as they are currently ranked 18th in the IRB’s world rankings. The event will feature only 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams, and will be played over four days.
Growing the game
“This is a tremendous step forward for rugby union and one of the biggest days in the history of the game,” Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, said in reaction to the IOC vote.
South African national sevens coach Paul Treu said the decision would mean greater support for rugby unions from their governments and national Olympic organisations.
“More countries will become competitive on the international stage – something we’ve already experienced in the IRB series, with teams like Kenya, Portugal and the USA doing very well.
“The game will attract more players,” Treu said. “Sportsmen and women will have the option of pursuing sevens as a viable rugby career option outside of the traditional 15-man code.”
IRB president Bernard Lapasset said the IRB would work with the IOC “to develop and implement a rugby sevens tournament in Rio that will reach out to new audiences and inspire a new generation of sports fans around the world.”
Nine top-100 golfers
Golf has endured an even longer break from the Olympic Games than rugby, having last been contested in Saint Louis in 1904, but it will attract a dedicated following in Rio, and South African fans will follow the contest closely.
There are currently nine South Africans ranked inside the world’s top 100 golfers: Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini, James Kingston, Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, and Richard Sterne.
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