IRFU: Olympics don’t add up

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne has cast doubt on the likelihood of an Ireland Sevens team going to the Olympics in 2016.

Sevens rugby, along with golf, will return to the Olympic roster of sports in five years at the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Those sports were readmitted by the International Olympic Committee following a vote of its assembly in 2009.

Yet, Browne revealed Ireland may not send a team to the Olympics. The chief executive said he was waiting for details of the qualification process to the Rio sevens before the IRFU made a final decision.

There was the possibility that earning a place in the Olympic competition via the IRB World Sevens series, which Ireland does not compete in, or through a separate one-off process but given the current state of the national governing body’s finances the CEO admitted the costs of submitting an Ireland team may be too prohibitive.

“There are a couple of issues,” Browne told the Irish Examiner. “We’re not quite sure what the Olympic qualification structure is going to be, that’s not sorted out yet. But the one thing that is certain, and we’ve done a hell of a lot of research into this and spoken to most of the leading nations in terms of sevens rugby, the cost of participating in IRB World Sevens is significant, a six or seven-figure sum.

“Now, bearing in mind ... the marginal position we’re in at the moment, it begs the question where are we going to get a six- or seven-figure sum from? And if we don’t embrace to the fullest extent that means we’re going to be also-rans.”

The process, said Browne, was also complicated by the three home nations having to combine forces under a Great Britain banner, and Ireland was also at a disadvantage in the numbers game.

“If qualification was the Great Britain team and then there’s Team Ireland, there’s issues around that. And issues for IRB then around when does Team GB play as opposed to the Welsh, the English and the Scottish teams.

“Then there is the issue of how many places are there in the competition. At the moment there’s only 12 and if that’s the case, do you qualify through the IRB world series or do you qualify through some sort of transparent and open qualification system involving any team in the world.

“And if so, how does that happen, because the Olympics works on a regional basis and Europe is one region. So if Europe’s one region and let’s say there’s Team GB, there has to be some link to IRB Sevens and the host nation will have a team, so you’re down to 11 teams.

“The winner of IRB Sevens will probably have to take up a place, Team GB will probably have to take a place and so now you’re down to eight or nine teams, divided across five different regions. So there might only be two qualifiers out of Europe and what sort of possible investment are you going to make on the bet? It’s like having a bet. You’ve got France, Italy, Romania, Russia, Georgia, Portugal, all of whom play sevens, and Ireland. And you’d be looking for one out of two spots.

“Are you going to make a multi-million euro investment on those odds? Those are the sort of challenges that we’re looking at.”

Browne was at pains to say no decision would be made until the full details of the qualification programme were disclosed.

“The Olympic sevens aren’t going to generate any revenues for Irish rugby,” he said. “But there’s a full spectrum from doing nothing to spending a seven-figure sum on putting a team together. Where we place ourselves on that spectrum, I don’t know. That really depends on what conclusion there is in relation to the qualification process.

“Regardless, it would be very unwise of us as a sport to run down the investment we’re making in the part of the sport that actually generates the revenues to fund the whole damn thing.

“Unless there was some obvious, new source of funding which would allow us to make that payment on that investment, I don’t see us being at that end of the spectrum in this current economic environment. I don’t see where that additional source of funds is going to be. For instance, in the Olympics you have no sponsorship, it’s a clean competition and so commercially it’s not going to generate a significant impact.

“So it’s still for discussion, there’s no conclusion reached on it yet but where we do see some real benefit is in terms of including sevens rugby at club and possibly schools level in that it offers another opportunity and another form of the game for people who may not want to get involved in 15-a-side rugby.”

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