Just weeks before the first oval ball is kicked in the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, the seven-a-side version of the game in Japan has received a huge boost with the news that Tokyo is to join the expanded HSBC Sevens World Series.
The International Rugby Board has announced that the tournament is being expanded and that Tokyo's Prince Chichibu Stadium will become the ninth venue for the upcoming 2011-2012 series, which begins in Australia's Gold Coast on November 25-26.
The climax to the tournament will be staged at Twickenham Stadium, in London, over the weekend of May 12 and 13, 2012.
The inclusion of Japan as the newest venue is a major boost for rugby in Asia, which has seen an increase of 18 percent in participation since the last World Cup was staged in 2007.
Last season, the HSBC Sevens World Series venues attracted more than 500,000 fans, with another 332 million homes tuning in to see games.
The sport is expected to win over more followers in 2016, when it will make its debut at the Olympic Games that are being staged in Rio de Janeiro. Three years later, Japan will host the World Cup for the full 15-a-side sport.
"I am delighted that Tokyo is joining the international roster of tournaments that comprise the record-breaking HSBC Sevens World Series, which last season was watched in 147 countries in 16 languages," said Bernard Lapasset, chairman of the IRB.
The IRB is aiding in the development of the sport across Asia, he said, and is currently investing over US$3 million annually in development, high performance and tournament programs across the region.
"We are determined to take this opportunity to demonstrate the appetite for rugby in Japan and give international fans a taste of what to expect at Rugby World Cup 2019," said Tatsuzo Yabe, chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union.
"To our visitors from overseas, please come and enjoy the tournament and witness Japan's strong unity through these tough times," he added.