Rugby sevens can help unlock ‘massive, untapped’ Asian market, says re-elected chairman Bill Beaumont

SCMP

World Rugby needs to make the most of a massive and largely untapped Asian market in its efforts to globalise the game – and the sevens format may be the way to achieve this quest, said the sport’s top official.

Bill Beaumont, speaking to the media for the first time since being re-elected chairman of World Rugby on Saturday, said sevens has been successful in bridging the gap between traditional powers and rising nations.

And gaining Olympic recognition has also helped to introduce an exciting brand of rugby to a wider audience.

“I do think it’s an incredible vehicle to expand our game globally,” said Beaumont, speaking to reporters via an online press conference on Sunday. “And certainly, in Asia for instance, there is a massive untapped market that we need to take advantage of.

“Rugby sevens can be an incredible tool for developing the game. If you look back, Kenya has won the HSBC World Sevens Series and Japan have been very competitive.

“The Olympics in Rio [in 2016] was a massive game-changer. What it did was bring rugby to the forefront of countries, who might have seen it, but it was a form of rugby that they can start to a lot easier and quicker.

“The kind of game you can start quickly in schools and universities and get established,” added Beaumont, who defeated Argentine challenger Agustin Pichot 28 votes to 23 in the election to win another four-year term.

The 10-tournament World Series, which has Asian stops in Hong Kong and Singapore, has allowed teams such as the United States and Kenya to challenge the top nations.

The Americans, in particular, have emerged as a world-class team over the past two years, having claimed a number of victories over New Zealand, Australia and England while winning their home tournament twice.

Sevens has also helped to boost rugby among women, with China leading the way for Asia by qualifying for the 2018-19 World Series.

Rugby returned to the Olympic fold at the 2016 Rio Games with the sevens format as Fiji took the gold medal ahead of Great Britain.

The 2019-20 World Series has been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic and is scheduled to resume in September with the London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong (October 16-18) tournaments.

Meanwhile, Beaumont said he was ready to confront an unprecedented financial crisis, unite the northern and southern hemispheres in one global calendar and maintain the growth of women’s rugby as he starts his final term in charge. All while not even knowing exactly when rugby can return following the pandemic.

“It’s ‘roll your sleeves up’ time,” Beaumont said as he laid out his hopes, plans and concerns.

Beaumont, a popular, avuncular figure who was England captain in the 1980s, discussed a range of subjects and challenges facing rugby in the short and medium term. He freely acknowledged, however, that rugby remains at the mercy of the coronavirus.

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