By Celestine Okorie, Correspondent South Africa
Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games held an operational test event for rugby sevens on Thursday, with 95 days to go before the first match of the tournament on 26 July.
The event was held at Tokyo Stadium, which will host all six days of action during the Games and was the site of the opening match of the hugely successful Rugby World Cup 2019.
Organisers from the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee and the Japanese Rugby Football Union tested a variety of operational measures around exhibition matches featuring players from Japan’s men’s and women’s national sevens teams, albeit with no fans in attendance.
Match-day operations were simulated as they will be during the Olympics, complete with match officials, ground staff, the teams being announced on the stadium speakers and music being played after every try.
The event also provided organisers with another chance to test out COVID-19 countermeasures, including players wearing masks during the warm-up, all areas being frequently disinfected and the use of a small vehicle to return stray balls to the field of play.
The Japanese players on show are currently within their own training bubble and were kept separate from media and officials during the event.
The operational testing went off without a hitch, and Tokyo 2020 Deputy Executive Director Yasuo Mori was pleased with the outcome: “This is the first occasion where we have worked as one team at this rugby event. We have been able to share information and coordinate accordingly. This has been the biggest learning from this event.”
Rugby sevens is a key priority for World Rugby and its Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Games had an unmistakable effect on the sport, attracting an estimated 30 million new fans globally.
The sport is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the Tokyo Games, following the outstanding success of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan and the performance of the Japan men’s sevens team at Rio, where they beat the likes of New Zealand and France on the way to a fourth-placed finish.
“We are massively excited about being back in Japan,” said World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin.
“It is a great opportunity for us. We know that a successful rugby sevens program in the Olympics is a great showcase for our sport, a great driver for future fans and players and is an inspirational pathway.”
“We know Japan will be great hosts, no matter what the circumstances.”
To ensure teams are as best prepared as possible for the Olympic Games, World Rugby is investing US$4 million into qualified unions’ sevens programmes and high-performance preparation events as the teams prepare for Tokyo.
The final two women’s and one men’s team will seal their place in Tokyo during the Repechage – the final Olympic qualification event – in Monaco on 19-20 June.