Good first impression for rugby, golf

Good first impression for rugby, golf

WHEN Fiji won a bronze in the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) men's rugby event last week, the moment was significant not just for the players who had claimed the first-ever medal for the island at the Youth Olympics, Summer Olympics or Winter Olympics level, but it was also a milestone for the egg chasers.

It marked the first time in 90 years that Olympic medals for rugby had been awarded.

The sport was last seen on this stage at the 1924 edition in Paris, when it was contested in the full 15-man format.

It returned in Nanjing in the sevens format.

Golf, too, was welcomed back to the Olympic programme in Nanjing. It was last featured at the St Louis Games in 1904.

Both sports will be on the Summer Olympics' slate when the Games move to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, after being voted in by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2009.

They are the first new additions to the Olympics since triathlon and taekwondo in 2000.

Dominic Rumbles, the International Rugby Board's (IRB) head of communications, said: "It was a very special, emotional and historic occasion for the global rugby family. It was a point that was not lost on our young players, who were very much aware of the history that they were making."

But even as officials celebrate what has been a successful campaign for both sports in Nanjing, they are also well aware of the pressure to keep their sought-after Olympic tickets.

"We're very privileged, there's no doubt," International Golf Federation executive director Antony Scanlon told The Straits Times. "We are also mindful of the responsibility, we have to perform well in Rio to justify the confidence that the (IOC) membership has given us to be part of the Olympic family."

IRB president Bernard Lapasset also told the official Games news service when he was in Nanjing: "It is a huge moment for rugby. We have two Olympics (2016 and 2020 in Tokyo) guaranteed and after that we have to come back and see if we will continue or not - that is the challenge for us."

That was why fine-tuning operations and sorting out teething problems have been a big part of the agenda at the Nanjing Games.

"The complexity of a multi-sport event is something to understand," said Scanlon, who noted that organisers are used to taking care of everything from logistics to what happens inside the ropes at golf tournaments.

"This gives us an opportunity to realise that we're just one wheel in a very big machine that needs to work efficiently."

They know, too, that there is a responsibility to grow their sports internationally, especially where their disciplines are not popular.

In rugby's case, for instance, the IRB has been running a "Get Into Rugby" programme in Nanjing for the last two years, introducing the sport to school children for the first time.

Scanlon noted that the IGF has been taking pointers from the International Tennis Federation to make the sports' biggest stars see the prestige of competing at the Olympics.

He said: "The ITF has had since 1988 to have their players see that it's special to win an Olympic medal.

"We have to make it a unique and great experience for the players. They will have only one opportunity every four years for this experience.

"The key for us is to produce the best possible field of players, or golf course for the golfers to perform, for them to walk away from the Olympics saying that it was special."

This article was first published on August 27, 2014.
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