Golf, rugby sevens up for spot in 2016 Olympics

By JeffGraveline

Oct. 9, 2009 is a day that could change the Olympic Games landscape. The International Olympic Committee is expected to hold its final vote to decide if the sports of golf, rugby sevens or both will be added to the 2016 Summer Olympic games.

The vote comes after 16 months of meetings and deliberations by the IOC and the sports’ respective governing bodies.

The possible addition of one or both of the sports comes on the heels of baseball and softball being ousted from the Olympics during a 2005 vote by the IOC. Rugby sevens and golf would fill this void.

“We’re thrilled,” said David Higdon, chief communications officer of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. “The LPGA in particular will benefit greatly if we get the chance to be elected to the Olympics and we feel … the Olympics will benefit as well from seeing our players in the Olympics.”

Golf was last played in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, where the gold medal was won by Canadian George Lyon.

For golf, the proposal for the addition of the event outlines a format for a field of 60 golfers, playing in a 72-hole tournament. The top 15 players in the world would receive automatic bids, while the remaining 45 spots would be filled by national qualifiers. All major golf tours, including the PGA, LPGA and both the men’s and women’s European tours, would suspend play during the 2016 Olympics, according to Higdon.

Rugby was last played in the Olympics in Paris in 1924, when the U.S. beat France 17-3 to win the gold medal.

“I think, first of all, [getting into the Olympics] legitimizes the sport,” said USA Men’s Rugby Sevens coach Al Carivelli.

Rugby sevens was presented to the IOC because “the sevens format is ideal for

television as it is fast and furious and also has the habit of producing upsets,”  International Rugby Board Chief Executive Mark Miller said on the Queensland, Australia Courier Mail Web site.

“I think … that sevens …appeals more to people who don’t understand rugby,” said Kriste Rienberg, a member of both the USA Women’s 15s and sevens teams. “It’s a little bit easier to decipher what’s going on.”

Rugby sevens would feature a field of 12 teams, both men’s and women’s, that would use an international tournament format.

The possible additions of golf and rugby sevens has left five other sports out of the Olympics: baseball, softball, squash, roller sports and karate. Of the seven sports, golf and rugby sevens were the two to receive two-thirds of the IOC’s votes for inclusion in the games in preliminary voting.

With golf and rugby sevens at the final stage of the inclusion process, leaders from each of the sports’ governing board are making a final push to gain admittance into the games.

“[In] places where the Olympics are extremely important, but golf may not be as much it will directly impact those that want to play,” Higdon said. “I think what happens is that governments get behind sports that are in the Olympics that may not have done that before.”

The sentiments of Higdon’s feelings about golf’s chances to expand the Olympic values were echoed by Carivelli about rugby sevens.

“One of the things that I think is attractive to the IOC is that you have the traditional countries that always have the opportunity to medal,” Carivelli said. “[Rugby sevens] opens it up for medal opportunities for the smaller nations or underdeveloped nations.”

The final vote on each sport will be held individually on Oct. 9 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Each sport will need a simple majority vote to be admitted into the 2016 Olympic Games.