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Young rugby players at Canada Games see Olympics in futures

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The Canadian Press
8/20/2009 10:24:28 AM
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SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Rugby in the Olympics is still one round of voting and seven years away, but players like Nick Phillipson and Shea Wakefield can still dream.

Rugby took a big leap toward becoming an Olympic sport when the fast-paced sevens version of the game was recommended last week for inclusion in the 2016 Summer Games, along with golf.

"We've actually talked about it as a team, and I think it's awesome," said Phillipson, a native of Duncan, B.C., who plays for the Cowichan Rugby Club. "I think it's going to make the youth more enthusiastic about rugby if they think it's an Olympic sport, and fuel a little bit more of a rugby community in Canada."

Phillipson and Wakefield, members of the B.C. rugby team at the Canada Summer Games, will be in their mid-20s - prime playing age - if and when the sport makes its OIympic debut.

"These are the players that could look forward to actually going to the Olympics, which would be a fantastic thing for them to achieve," said Rugby Canada high performance director Geraint John, who's in P.E.I. to scout potential national team talent.

"The World Cup is always sort of the main part for a rugby player, but to have the Olympics as well, and to get into that event is something every athlete, no matter what sport, obviously wants to achieve."

The International Olympic Committee executive board selected rugby and golf from a list of seven proposed sports, which also included squash, karate and roller sports. The board also approved women's boxing for the 2012 London Games.

Rugby and golf will be put forward for ratification by the full 106-member IOC assembly in Copenhagen in October. Final approval will require a simple majority.

In a sport that takes a back seat in North America to the pro sports such as hockey and football, John said he's just happy rugby's in the news.

"All of a sudden we're on television news, headlines in newspapers," John said. "I know golf is one of the other subjects and perhaps Tiger Woods is more known than the majority of our rugby players, but it's good to be in the news and have parents, families and players talking about it and talking about the sport."

Rugby was played in four Olympics between 1900 and 1924 in the full 15-a-side format. Rugby officials opted to go with the sevens game, which is 14-minutes long, because the tournament could be played over four days. The Rugby World Cup is played over six weeks because of the toll the longer 80-minute games take on the players.

IOC president Jacques Rogge played rugby at the national level for Belgium.

"They bring the spectacular side of sport, with a lot of scoring, reversals and turnovers," Rogge said after last week's decision. "You have a lot of countries that can win medals. It's very universal."

Wakefield, a Victoria native who plays for James Bay rugby club, said the inclusion of rugby in the Olympics will finally bring some attention in North America to a sport that's widely popular elsewhere.

"If you watch the Rugby World Cup on TV, there's 80,000 people in the stadium, what more do you need? Pretty much North America is the last corner (of the world) that isn't big on rugby," Wakefield said. "There's lots of opportunities to play, you don't need the Olympics. But the Olympics would be great. That's always something that anyone would like to do.

"I think it would also get a lot more kids involved. If kids hear it's going to be in the Olympics some day, that might drive them to come out, get a ball in their hands."

Phillipson, who's been invited to attend a national under-20 camp in September, has played a bit of sevens rugby, and is a fan of the shorter, faster game.

"It takes a different sort of body type to play the game because it's a lot more open space and quicker pace," he said. "It's a really fun game but it's definitely different from 15s."

While rugby could make its Olympic debut, the sport may be making its final appearance in the Canada Games. Rugby isn't on the program for 2013.

John hopes that the Olympic momentum will bring the sport back into the Canada Games, which is one of few opportunities for athletes 18-and-under to participate in a multi-sport event.

"It's disappointing, but we'll see what we can do," John said.

B.C. and Ontario are tied atop Pool A of the Games after a pair of victories for both teams Monday. B.C. beat Alberta 41-3 and blanked Newfoundland and Labrador 33-0. Ontario beat Newfoundland 24-3 and Quebec 33-3.

New Brunswick and Saskatchewan are 2-0 atop Pool B. New Brunswick defeated P.E.I. 10-5 and Nova Scotia 14-10, while Saskatchewan beat Manitoba 20-5 and P.E.I. 14-6.

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