MOSCOW — Poor attendances at the Rugby World Cup Sevens have not marred the greater effect that both Russia and world rugby will feel from hosting the event in the build-up to the sport’s inclusion in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, according to the International Rugby Board (IRB).
The three-day tournament won by New Zealand (in both the men and women’s competitions) was staged at the Luzhniki Stadium, host of the 1980 Olympic Games. Its capacity is 79,000, which was reduced to 50,000 by advertising hoardings.
But the high-octane action of the abbreviated game on the pitch was often watched by sparsely filled stands.
Brett Gosper, CEO of the IRB, said that searing temperatures, an enormous thunder storm on the final day and too-accessible tickets were to blame for some people staying away. But organisers still claimed daily attendances of around 20,000.
"We came to Moscow to take the game to another part of the world, where the sport is developing strongly but still in its infancy, not in time, but a relative minnow," Gosper said.
"We’re probably a touch disappointed, we would have liked to have seen a few more people in the crowd, but we’ve been pushing 20,000 a day for this stadium.
"We could have made a choice and put this in a smaller stadium and burst the seams of a 20,000-seater stadium, but in Russia doing in it in this stadium sends out an enormous signal to the Russians that this is a sport that is really top level. It has an iconic value in that representation."
The Russian men sent the crowds wild, with victory in the final of the men’s bowl, the third-tier competition, running out convincing 29-5 winners over Japan.
They had beaten Spain 17-7 and Uruguay 38-0 to get there, having gone down to South Africa (31-0) and Scotland (21-5), and drawing with Japan (12-12), in pool play.
The Russian women also pulled off what was arguably the biggest shock of the tournament, edging England 17-15 in pool play. But they could not continue their fine pool-topping form and were eliminated by Canada in the Cup quarters.
"It is amazing for us to get some silverware on home soil, it is the first time such a rugby tournament took place in Moscow," said Russia’s star men’s player Vasily Artemyev, the Ireland-educated Northampton winger.
"Hopefully, we have done enough on day three to redeem ourselves in the eyes of our fans, show that we can play rugby. We are nearly there, we will be there soon and there are loads of us to come in the future."
Gosper said the Russian men’s bowl performance and Moscow’s hosting of the event were vastly significant.
"It’s massive for them to be in the top 10 of the tournament," he said, adding that the tournament had been shown live on Russian television and was also beamed into an estimated 350-million homes in 170 countries.
"We’re there with a lot of Olympic officials who are very positive about the experience of coming here. They know that we’re trying to take the sport into new countries," Gosper said.
"With their experience in other sports, they know that’s not an easy thing to do, fill a stadium in five minutes. Even the sevens tournaments that have been around for a long time took a long time to fill their stadiums."
Gosper predicted sell-out crowds in Rio, saying: "Rio’s an Olympic Games, it’s a very different affair. It’s an Olympic effect, we’ll be in our own 20,000-seat purpose-built stadium, in a park with eight other sports.
" We’re very confident that the Olympics will go very well and there’s no reason to believe that we’re not going to be playing in front of full crowds in Rio."