Dec 18, 2015
Legendary Argentine believes his sport will bring a missing ingredient to the Olympic Games
Agustín Pichot is a genuine sporting legend, the man who dragged the Argentina rugby team from being plucky underdogs to feared rivals, revolutionising the sport in his country. He inspired the Pumas to third place at the 2007 World Cup, led Stade Francais to the French championship and captained Bristol in the English Premiership. Such were his achievements, The Daily Telegraph even suggested he should be considered the player of the last decade.
A natural ambassador as well as an on-pitch warrior, he also played his part in bringing rugby back into the Olympic Games after 92 years. It will return – in the seven-a-side format – at the Rio 2016 Games, something that Pichot believes will see the sport boom in South America.
“In countries such as Colombia and Mexico, places where you didn’t even see rugby, the growth has been enormous”
Already immortalised in the Rugby Hall of Fame following his retirement in 2007, Pichot was elected to the executive committee of World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body, in October. The veteran of four World Cups also captained Argentina’s sevens team and tirelessly promoted rugby’s return to the Olympic fold across the globe.
He agrees with the widely held view that this year’s World Cup was a pivotal event for rugby (the final between Australia and New Zealand was watched by over 120 million people) but believes the next key moment is coming up fast.
“The Rio 2016 Games will be the second most important step,” he said in an exclusive interview with rio2016.com’s Alejandro Lifschitz. “It will make it easier for more children to come into contact with rugby. It isn’t necessary to know a lot about rugby to play it. In Latin America, the desire to see rugby grow is very large. The expectation is enormous.”
Rugby will be played at Deodoro Olympic Park, the second largest venue cluster, and Pichot believes it will bring something special to the Olympic Movement.
“I see rugby as something that is missing at the Games, because it’s one of the most important sports in the world. I have no doubt that it will be a brilliant event”
While the traditional 15-player game (rugby union) was contested at the Olympic Games between 1900 and 1924, Rio will host the debut of the faster seven-a-side game. Played on the same size field as union, the abundance of space makes sevens a dynamic spectacle.
Only one spot remains in the men’s and the women’s competitions (click here to see who has qualified) and while World Cup winners New Zealand are obvious favourites, Pichot warned that sevens is fiercely unpredictable.
“The All Blacks are the only team to have proven themselves to be at a higher level,” he said. “They have competed on the rugby sevens circuit for several years. But there are other good sides, such as Fiji. In the women’s competition, there are teams like the USA. Rugby sevens is more unpredictable and depends more on the physical condition of the players rather than technical or tactical aspects.
“This is the beauty of rugby sevens, any side can win and any side can lose”
A ‘crossover’ player himself, Pichot said that Argentina’s Olympic sevens team could include players from their 15-a-side team that finished fourth in this year’s World Cup in England. “A sevens player can easily play rugby union, and a union player can easily play sevens,” he said. “We have thought about using Argentine union starters at the Olympic Games. The UAR (Argentine Rugby Union) is considering this.”