Mike Miller is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Rugby Board. IRB.com recently spoke to him about his views on the 2010 Sevens Series. In his first ever column on irb.com, Mike considers the sport’s new life within the Olympic family and what it means for the Game of Rugby as a whole. These are his comments:
2009 was simply a huge year for rugby. Getting into the Olympics will have a major impact on the Game.
In 2010 we can start building on some the successes of 2009 and obviously one of the big issues is going to be about the Olympics, and Sevens.
We have our first meeting with the IOC at the end of January, and also with ASOIF, which is the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations of which we’ve become a member, to talk about how entry into the Olympics will work; about how qualification will work; about the number of teams; how financing works. There’s something called ‘Olympic Solidarity’ where money is given out to National Olympic Committees and also to National Federations to help grow the Game.
We will be running a complete review of our Sevens strategy and updating our Sevens Strategic Plan. That will involve all the stakeholders within the Game.
IRB Sevens World Series: The Future
And all of that obviously involves the IRB Sevens World Series. After this year there’s another year of the current five-year arrangement with the hosts (Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, England, Scotland) and we’ll take a good look at how it could best shape up going forward.
Eight events a year – is that right? Should we have more, or less?
Core teams – we have 12 at the moment, should it be 12, more or less?
How does qualification work? We have various satellite tournaments around the world but should things be more structured in terms of filling those four final places in the events, or eight in the case of Hong Kong?
How is the development pathway working for unions around the world, and how do we ensure that we have Sevens played on every continent and at all levels?
And what about the women’s Game? There are a lot of questions coming out of Sevens and it’s a very exciting time for the Game.
I’m not sure I’d want to be a Sevens coach in 2016 because there’s going to be a lot of pressure. By that point I would have thought that there will be a number of teams with professional Sevens players and then you’re going to have the ’15s players’ who are going to say ‘we want to be in the Olympics’, so how will they get the right combination between the two? We’ll leave that one up to the coaches and selectors.
Sevens and 15s
Some people have expressed concern about Sevens ‘taking over from 15s’. Personally, I don’t think that will be the case.
The IRB’s view is that we want people to play rugby, no matter what the form is whether it’s Beach, Tag, Touch, Sevens, 15s, it doesn’t really matter. Get a ball in their hands. Get them to start playing. We think that people will move backwards and forwards between the different forms of the Game.
There will be some countries who see Sevens as a fast track on the way to international recognition – countries like Portugal, Kenya and USA have all become extremely competitive in Sevens at the very top level – but look at the impact that also had on Portugal’s 15-a-side programme, helping many of the same group of players, and the same coach, take on those high performance standards and qualify for a first Rugby World Cup, in France in 2007.
We understand that there may be a tendancy for certain countries to prefer Sevens but it’s our job to ensure that they look at all aspects of the Game.
Rugby World Cup is such a huge event for 15s, the third largest sporting event in the world, it powers everything that we do at the IRB and I can’t see 15s diminishing as a result of Sevens. I can only see them helping each other to grow.
We’re going to be setting up a working group that will involve 10 or 12 players and people from all different aspects of the Game. That will then report back to the (IRB) Rugby Committee, which will then report to the IRB Council and Executive Committee who will make the ultimate decisions.
It’s important that we hear everybody’s views and to get the facts before you go and do something.
We have to talk to the IOC first. We have to talk to ASOIF first. We have to talk to all the Game’s stakeholders first because there are people who have invested a lot in Sevens over the last 10 years – the host unions for the World Series, the core teams and other teams who have really taken it to heart – and we have to make sure that they get a return on their investment, and that whatever we do in the future is driven by their needs as well as the needs of the Game.