November 18 - Patrick Hickey, a member of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) ruling Executive Board, has praised rugby's appeal, vision and opportunity in being added to Rio 2016 programme, but also warned against any future complacency.
The Irishman, also President of the European Olympic Committees, was speaking here on the opening day of the International Rugby Board (IRB) Rugby Conference and Exhibition in a panel discussion on "Optimising Olympic Participation".
Like the other panelists he described the great advantages that inclusion will bring but also insisted the sport must not rest on its laurels if it wants to remain on the Olympic programme beyond Tokyo 2020, which is as far as the IOC has guaranteed its participation.
But the IOC are due to re-evaluate the programme for the 2024 Olympics straight after Rio 2016 with a decision due in 2017.
"Every sport will be evaluated post Rio," he said afterwards to insidethegames.
"Rugby has the possibility to do that, through [IRB chairman] Bernard Lapasset and [former Romanian rugby player and new IOC member] Octavian Morariu, but cannot afford to take anything for granted.
"They better start to lobby now for the examination after 2016 - if they don't, they will end up in the danger zone and it very difficult to get out of that."
To make his point, Hickey cited the example of wrestling where, after not making suitable preparations, it was removed from the 2020 schedule before "changing leadership and doing a massive lobby" to return.
He also highlighted a personal example from his own sport of judo in the early part of the 21st century where "we realised that no one could assume that they would stay on the Olympic programme anymore" and "every sport was put under the microscope".
"My job was to infiltrate IOC members and make it clear to them what judo is, build up the image so when it came to the time when the decision had to be made, judo would not be in the danger area," said Hickey.
However, he also had much that was positive to say and attributed rugby's successful attempt to join to two principle reasons.
These were "superb lobbying" and the fact that rugby is "a new game which is very attractive to the youth of the world".
This second point was important because "the IOC are continually looking for ways to reach out to the youth who are starting to become couch potatoes playing on electronic machines all day".
He also described how the IRB overcame the initial problem of appealing to traditional rugby playing nations who were more interested in the 15-man version, while he sees inclusion as opening up many new funding and participation opportunities.
One good example of this came from Hickey's fellow speaker Mike Chu, general manager of Rugby Operations and Performance at Rugby Canada, who described the steps forward taken in rugby in that country as a result of Olympic inclusion.
This comes in a financial sense due to access to significant Own the Podium funding available for Olympic sports - which has directly led to eight new full time staff being employed at Rugby Canada.
However there are also training and sports science advantages, as well as the opportunity to gain a similar publicity boost to that enjoyed by Canada's women's football team when they won a surprise silver medal at London 2012.
Another speaker was a budding Olympian herself, Brazil's Beatriz Muhlbauer, who has played for her country since 2004.
She described Rio 2016 participation as a "huge opportunity for the Brazillian rugby community at all levels and a chance to show "the country and the world that we can embrace and play rugby as well as football".
IRB chief executive Brett Gosper agreed with these views of Olympic benefits and, in a nod to Hickey's warning, admitted that "to stay a good part of Olympic family we need to put on a good Games in Rio".
He explained the importance of lobbying and also disputed suggestions rugby sevens could have a detrimental affect on the 15 side game.
He described sevens as "very accessible and easy to understand" and thus a way into rugby but that there are "two versions of rugby which compliment each other".
"Bringing more people into the sport will therefore help the game at all levels," he claimed.
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