Rugby’s Olympic bid gets home ground advantage

Backers of rugby’s campaign for reinstatement as an Olympic sport could not have wished for a more supportive audience than the Oceania National Olympic Committee meetings in Queenstown.

Ex-Fiji captain Waisale Serevi told members at the ONOC general assembly on Tuesday that the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the 2016 Olympics would increase the chances for small countries to win medals.

“Small nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Kenya, Argentina and New Zealand would be in with a chance,” he said, earning nods and smiles of approval from the members for the Pacific island nations.

New Zealand is one of the game’s heartlands and will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It is also home to the famous New Zealand All Blacks, the code’s No. 1-ranked team.

Rugby was last played at the Olympics in Paris in 1924 and the International Rugby Board’s representative Kit McConnell said it was ready for reinclusion.

He said rugby was now played in 116 nations by 3 million people, with men and women playing at international level.

Rugby Sevens, a compact version of the traditional 15-a-side game that can be easily played in a two- or three-day tournament format, has recently hosted its men’s and women’s World Cups.

Rugby is one of seven sports seeking to be added to the Olympic sports program for the 2016 Summer Games.

Only two will be nominated to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion, with a vote taken in October, at the same meetings with the IOC will vote on the host city for the 2016 Olympics.

IOC president Jacques Rogge (pictured), who played international rugby for Belgium and also was an Olympic sailor, attended the Queentown meetings and told representatives of each sport that the process to decide between them would be fair, open and transparent.

“It will be based on quality not subjective elements,” he said.

Rogge told a news conference in Wellington on Monday he’d loved playing rugby but the sport wouldn’t get any special treatment in voting.

Representatives of baseball, soft ball, karate and squash also gave brief presentations in Queenstown, where the four candidate cities to host the 2016 Olympics also pitched their bids to members.

Baseball and softball were contested at the Beijing Olympics last August, but were voted off the program for the London 2012 Olympics at the same meetings in Singapore where the British capital was selected as host city.

Oceania karate representative Makarita Lenoa said the World Karate Federation was disappointed to miss out on selection for the 2012 Olympics. Judo and taekwondo are on the program, along with boxing.

Karate was ruled out because there were two existing martial arts represented at the games, Lenoa said. She advocated for an overhaul of the program.

“This is not the modern way … If karate is accepted into the Olympic program and IOC members consider three martial arts are too much then this can be changed.

Only the strongest in the program should be kept,” she said, adding that Karate was the world’s most popular martial art.

The International Softball Federation’s deputy secretary general Low Beng Choo said softball was an overwhelming success at Beijing, was a popular and growing sport for women and had been 100 percent doping free since the 1950s.

“For some sports like softball, Olympic Games status is the catalyst for achieving enormous growth around the world,” she said.

World Squash Federation representative Gerard De Courcy said the sport was played by 20 million people in 175 different countries and was voted the world’s healthiest sport by Forbes magazine in 2006.

The required glass courts could be put anywhere and made a spectacular display as had been seen in places such as the Giza pyramids and Grand Central Station in New York.

The world’s top squash players had signed a ple

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