By George Byron
RUGBY bosses, always keen to expand their global playing base, are busy plotting a Russian revolution that will give their sport a major boost next year.
Howard Thomas, the chief executive and vice-president of the Rugby Union of Russia, was in Port Elizabeth earlier this month to promote next years’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow.
While Thomas was speaking 20 000 fans were inside the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium watching 16 nations competing for honours at the South African leg of the World Series.
Thomas, the former Sale and English Premiership chief executive, spoke about his dreams for the Russian World Cup on the second day of the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens.
Though they have not been setting the world alight in the sevens this year, the Blitzbokke will be hoping to mount a serious challenge for honours in Moscow.
If the Blitzbokke are to be successful, much could depend on the fitness of their ace playmaker, Cecil Afrika, who has been hampered by a persistent knee injury.
The International Rugby Board (IRB), announced that Russia would host the 2013 Sevens version after Germany, Brazil and Scotland all initially showed interest to stage the showpiece.
Just days before Thomas’s visit to Port Elizabeth, sevens received another big boost when Olympic Games bosses said sevens rugby would be played at the main Olympic Stadium where the athletics will be staged in Rio in 2016.
The decision to hold the event in the same stadium that is due to host the athletics is expected to be formally ratified by the International Rugby Board (IRB) next month when its chairman Bernard Lapasset travels to the Brazilian city to hold talks with the organisers.
The event had originally been scheduled to be held in the Sao Januario Stadium, home of football club Vasco da Gama.
But they failed to provide the necessary guarantees required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IRB by the end of October.
This seems to be the ideal solution because the stadium will be idle for the first week of the Games before the athletics programme is due to start.
That followed news in 2009 that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that sevens rugby would be played at the Olympic Games in 2016.
"The fact that sevens now has Olympic status has fired the enthusiasm of Russian authorities,” Thomas said.
"Russia has in the past hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and with the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Games the government support for the RWC Sevens 2013 has been considerable, both at federal and local levels,” said Thomas.
"The Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow will be the venue for both the men’s and women’s tournaments over three days.
"The Luzhniki Stadium is a world-famous venue that has over the last few years hosted many prestigious events, including the UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.
"Rugby in Russia has high ambitions and the support from various sectors, most notably the President of Russia, will ensure that the game has a bright future.
"Awarding Russia the RWC Sevens 2013 host status is also in keeping with the IRB’s strategic need to grow the game globally.
"Russian rugby is up for the challenge and another factor that has helped breathe life into the game was that Russia made its Rugby World Cup debut in New Zealand last year.
"We have appointed travel agents in several countries to assist with getting fans to the Russian capital and the country’s authorities have eased the visa requirements considerably to help the process. We’ve reached a stage where the authorities will allow a RWC Sevens 2013 ticket to be as good as a visa.”
The Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 Pool Allocation Draw will take place at the historic Petroff Palace, Moscow, on February 28, for the competition to be played in the Russian capital from June 28-30.
Qualified teams for RWC Sevens 2013,: Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, iji, France, Georgia, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Tonga, Tunisia, USA, Wales and Zimbabwe. The final place will be taken by the winners of the South American Sevens Championship in Rio de Janeiro on February 23-24.
Blitzbok sevens star Steven Hunt said he was delighted to hear that sevens would be played at the main Olympic Stadium.
"That is a big boost for the sport. Obviously I would love to be part of the team that goes to Rio, but four years is a long time and anything could happen.’ Hunt said.
Hunt, who was forced to pull out of the PE leg of the World Sevens Series with an ankle injury, said the sport would grow in leaps and bounds during the next couple of years.
"Countries, with an eye on the Olympics, will pour more money into the sport and pat their players. This will mean that the gap between the traditional powerhouse teams and the lesser nations will narrow considerably,” Hunt speculated.