MARCH 5 - RUGBY SEVENS campaign to get into the 2016 Olympics received another boost today when the International Rugby Players' Association (IRPA) and England's Rugby Football Union both threw their support behind the bid.
IRPA is a global body which represents the world's top players and has pledged its backing ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai - a tournament that will see 480 of the world's best men's and women's players competing for the ultimate prize in Sevens Rugby and which starts today.
Damian Hopley, the IRPA's chairman, said: "The IRPA is fully committed to the International Rugby Board's (IRB) vision to see Rugby re-included in the Olympic Games and our players have been unanimous in their support.
"All of them are saying, 'We’ll be there’ if rugby sevens is selected."
Hopley was a member of the England team that won the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1993.
He said: "Olympic inclusion would mark an important milestone for our Game and would enable rugby and its leading principles of camaraderie, fair play, respect and teamwork to inspire a growing number of young people around the world.
"We also believe that it is important that all athletes are given an opportunity to fulfill their dreams and compete at the highest level possible and there is no greater global sporting stage to achieve this than the Olympic Games.
"Participating at the Games would be a unique experience for our players who would be proud to compete for the right to be called Olympians.
"We will be working closely with the IRB in the coming months leading up to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Session in Copenhagen to ensure that the support of our top players for the campaign is felt across the Olympic Movement."
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "We already work closely with IRPA and are heartened by this tremendous show of support from the sport’s top players for our Olympic campaign."
"Our organisations share common goals of continuing to grow the game globally and always providing the best platform for our players to perform at the highest level.
"We both firmly believe that the Olympic Games are integral to achieving these and we will continue to work together to deliver on our vision.”
IRPA’s backing follows public support from some of the world’s top players, including Bryan Habana, who won the World Cup with South Africa in 2007.
He said: “I have spoken with many of my fellow top players and each one agrees that competing at the Olympic Games would be an amazing experience.
"We would all be there and would be proud to call ourselves 'Olympians’."
IRPA Board member and Argentina sevens star Santiago Gomez Cora said: “The inclusion of rugby sevens at the Olympic Games would provide a massive boost to the growth of rugby worldwide.
"Participation on the world’s greatest sporting stage is a dream for all players and it would provide the chance to smaller nations to win an Olympic medal.”
England Sevens head coach Ben Ryan has underlined his country's determination to help the sport gain a place in the Olympics.
He said: “It’s a very exciting prospect to think that we could be involved in the Olympic programme.
"If sevens was given Olympic status the sport would rocket, it would be on a completely different level.
“For the players it would mean everything, the venues, the podiums, the gold medals it’s definitely something that the players are desperate to be involved in.
“The rugby sevens programme is already very exciting, if we can add to that by competing in the Olympics it would be amazing.”
Ollie Phillips, England's captain for the World Cup in Dubai, said: “Just to think that we could be involved in an Olympic Games is fantastic.
“It would be great to be given the opportunity to meet other Olympians and gold medal winners let alone compete in the Olympics alongside them.
“It would open the game up to a massive worldwide audience.
"It would propel the game of sevens and that’s something I would love to be involved with.”
Rugby sevens is one of seven sports hoping to be elected onto the Olympic programme for 2016 at the IOC Session in Copenhagen in October.
The other sports are baseball, golf, karate, roller sports, squash and softball.