Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby: IRB selects Moscow World Cup to boost global profile of sevens

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The International Rugby Board faces a pivotal three days at the World Cup sevens to see if their bold move to take a premier event on the calendar to Moscow, a city outside rugby's comfort zone, pays dividends.

At face value Russia might seem an odd choice but it reflects a conscious decision to broaden the sport's scope when facing a first Olympics in its most abridged format at Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian and German rugby boards also expressed an intention to tender for the tournament but Russia was the only country to officially bid.

They were awarded the tournament six days before hosting the 2010 IRB junior world rugby trophy for second tier nations. The catch phrase "to ignite a new rugby frontier" was bandied about for the 2013 event. Now they must prove it.

Filling the 89,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium is an ambitious task when it has previously hosted the 1980 Olympics and 2008 Champions league football final.

A rugby festival involving 2000 players, 130 teams in 11 tournaments is taking place around the tournament to boost its profile so the average Joe Moscow might be lured into the spirit.

Brett Gosper took over as IRB chief executive in July. The 54-year-old Australian has spent most of his career heading international advertising agencies; he speaks fluent French after spending the majority of his playing days with Parisian club Racing; and he is consciously spreading the message on Twitter with 4812 followers at last count. Gosper wants the IRB to demonstrate an inclusive policy, embracing as wide a rugby fan base as possible leading to the Olympics rather than cowering to any perceived old boys' clubs of yesteryear.

"We want to accelerate smaller rugby nations to a competitive level. XVs can tend to be embedded in rugby-centric countries but others not normally associated with rugby - like Russia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil - were in the top 10 of the women's world series this season.

"Russia might not be the most rugby-literate country but they are used to big events and cultural and communication challenges. It's time rugby went out of its comfort zone and that's why we're going to less traditional venues like Japan for the 2019 World Cup.

"As an overall nation Russia is one of the best candidates for taking the game global with its potential for growth. In 2006 there were 150 clubs, now there are around 400 clubs. They now have 30,000 registered players. The Olympic effect is not to be underestimated. That is the reason it has gone into the school curriculum."

The IRB is pushing a clear message. Chairman Bernard Lapasset recently said: "Russia is an important strategic market."

• Andrew Alderson travelled to Moscow with the assistance of New Zealand Rugby.

- NZ Herald

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