Tom Degun: Exciting times for golf and rugby sevens as Rio 2016 looms large

Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Tom Degun_ITG2If London 2012 proved one thing to the people of Britain, it is that there is life beyond football.

Obviously, football was at the Olympics, with Mexico winning the men's competition and America the women's if you remember?

And of course, it is back with a vengeance now as we focus all our attention on John Terry's England retirement and whether the world will ever be the same again because of it.

But for 17 glorious days, football was forced to pretty much take a backseat as the likes of athletics, swimming and cycling stormed to the fore and sports like archery, fencing, hockey and taekwondo proved that disciplines that don't involve kicking a ball are truly worthy of our adulation.

I myself became a handball convert, wondering from my seat in the press stand why London 2012 was the first time I had ever seen this fast paced, physical and, ultimately, enthralling game.

But as the 26 Olympic sports used London 2012 to shine, two sports were noticeably absent; patiently waiting their turn on the sidelines of the Games.

I refer to rugby sevens and golf, which you will see at the Olympics in four years' time.

It was at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Copenhagen in 2009 that both sports were voted onto the programme for Rio 2016.

Perhaps they were unlucky to just miss out on London 2012 given that rugby sevens had a ready-made home in Twickenham and golf could easily have settled in at numerous courses across the UK that are truly world class. Given that it is the "home of golf" and that London 2012 events were held in Scotland, I imagine St Andrews would have been a worthy Olympic course contender alongside the likes of Royal St George's in Kent and Royal Liverpool in Merseyside.

rio 2016_olympic_golf_courseAmerican architect Gil Hanse won the contest to design the Rio 2016 Olympic golf course

Incidentally, Rio lacks a single golf course of such a standard, leading the organisers to hold a competition earlier this year to choose a designer to create it. If you want to know, the winner was American architect Gil Hanse, who was picked off an eight-person shortlist that included golfing legends Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Gary Player.

Regardless of that, the Rio 2016 announcement means a return for rugby to the Olympics for the first time since Paris 1924 and golf for the first time since St Louis 1904.

Rugby sevens booked its Olympic spot largely off the back of successful appearances at the Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games. Golf, it is often whispered, came after the IOC could no longer take holding the greatest sporting event on the planet without the world's biggest sportsperson – a certain Tiger Woods.

Admittedly, the decision came just before the great American's dramatic fall from grace, that followed the infamous fire hydrant incident and from which his image has only just about recovered, but that is another story altogether.

At the London 2012 Olympics, it was rugby that made the bigger impact of the two as the International Rugby Board (IRB) held a glitzy event at the lavish Prestige Pavilion opposite the Olympic Stadium.

With a stellar list of guests made up largely of IOC members, IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset – a likeable Frenchman – spoke eloquently about how rugby sevens would give a major boost to the Olympics. The 64-year-old, who always gives me an affectionate yet painfully hard slap on the back whenever we meet, was seemingly brimming with excitement at the prospect of featuring at the next Summer Games.

Bernard Lapasset_french_Chairman_of_the_International_Rugby_Board_and_Guy_Drut_French_politician_watch_the_Mens_Basketball_game_at_the_London_2012_Summer_Olympics1Bernard Lapasset (left) joins French Olympic gold medallist Guy Drut to watch the London 2012 men's basketball game

In the meantime, the HSBC Sevens Series will provide an ample taste of what is to come.

By contrast, the International Golf Federation (IGF) was rather inconspicuous at London 2012 despite its executive director Antony Scanlon attending for the duration for the Games.

However, it has the perfect opportunity to showcase the sport later this week with the 2012 Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois set to get underway.

The event promises to be an absolute blockbuster with a United States, spearheaded by a rejuvenated Woods, set to meet a Europe with Northern Irish star Rory McIlroy in their ranks.

Everyone is already hoping that the best two players in the world clash on the final day of the competition, in what Rio 2016 will be praying is a preview of the clash for the first men's Olympic gold medal in the sport in over 100 years.

But already, McIlroy has stoked the fire for Rio 2016 by saying he has not decided whether to compete for Britain or Ireland at the Olympics.

Rory McIlroyNorthern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy has already said he is unsure whether to represent Britain or Ireland at the Rio 2016 Olympics

"I am in an extremely sensitive and difficult position," McIlroy said in an open letter, with the issue set to come under increasing focus in the coming years.

Whatever happens, there is little doubt that the Olympics will benefit from having these two new, globally popular sports on the programme and the likes of stars such as McIlroy and Woods will only help increase the already formidable marketing power of the IOC.

However, it must be said that rugby sevens and golf marks the start of a new way of thinking for the IOC, where sports will be added and removed from the programme on a far more regular basis.

A maximum of 28 sports are allowed at any one Olympic Games and this threshold will be reached at Rio 2016 with the inclusion of rugby sevens and golf.

But now there are currently eight sports bidding to make the 2020 Olympic Games programme, which will be staged in either Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo.

These are climbing, karate, roller sport, squash, wakeboard, wushu, baseball and softball, with the latter two likely to make a joint bid.

One will almost certainly get the nod, meaning one current sport will go.

Which sport it will be is mere speculation for now, although you can safely assume athletics, swimming and cycling will be okay.

But whatever it is, it will be a bitter pill to swallow because as London 2012 showed us, and as rugby sevens and golf will soon find out, there is no shop window quite as bright as the one in the middle of the Olympic Rings.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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