An unseemly scrum is developing in the race to get into the Olympics-after-next and rugby is right there in the thick of it, shoving, rucking and mauling towards inclusion in 2016. The sevens version is one of seven sports – golf, squash, baseball, softball, karate and roller-skating are the others – two of which will find their way into the Games of 2016, thus adding to a gargantuan programme which is already overcrowded and increasingly unwieldy.
International Olympic Committee sources say they have been taken aback by the ferocity of the campaign to get sevens up and running, and you can bet that if two sports are eliminated from the list at a presentation in Lausanne tomorrow, rugby will not be one of them. Nor will golf, another sport which is using its wealth and muscle – and the voice of Colin Montgomerie – to argue its case to get on the Olympic bandwagon.
There is a counter-argument that the Olympics does not need more sports but rather less. The Games are in danger of losing sight of what they should be about, if they haven't already: the pinnacle of achievement for any competitor. Can rugby say that is the case, or golf? Would Tiger Woods prefer the Green Jacket or an Olympic blazer? I have long thought that tennis has no place in the Games for that very reason. Ask Andy Murray if he would prefer to win the Olympics, or Wimbledon.
There is a further step before the final rubber-stamping is done at the IOC congress in Copenhagen in October, when the decision on where the 2016 Games will be held is made – Chicago is rightly the front runner. The remaining bidding sports will be whittled down to the proposed two at an executive board meeting in Berlin next month. What odds rugby sevens and golf topping the poll?
Some PR-orchestrated ball-twisting seems to have been going on in the scrum to push rugby's case, such as the curiously inflated statistics for the sport's universal appeal via viewing figures for the recent IRB Sevens World Cup in Dubai. It is claimed that 760 million people in 141 countries watched the event. Oh yeah? That's almost as many as the Games themselves. It does not harm rugby's case that IOC president Jacques Rogge is a former Belgian flanker. He may not have a vote but he does have influence.
And while he emphasises that he cannot be seen publicly to be supporting it, the British Olympic Association's performance chief Sir Clive Woodward, formerly the England rugby union coach, tells us: "I think sevens would be a fantastic Olympic sport. A lot of teams could win it, unlike the full game – Russia, America, or China. It would be good for the Olympics and good for sport."
Montgomerie calls it "a great shame that golf isn't an Olympic sport". On that premise Lewis Hamilton could say the same about Formula One or Phil Taylor about 'arrers. Where will it all end? If more sports have to be included, there are more compelling cases than rugby and golf. Squash has been squeezed out for too long now. It has done much to enhance its small-screen appeal and it's genuinely played in 175 countries. Karate is about the only global contact sport (100 million participants) that is not included, and the increasingly popular women's sport of softball, unfairly jettisoned after Athens, deserves another chance.
If they really want to make the Games more televisual, why not turn the whole five-ringed circus into a glorified "Super O", cutting all the sports down to bite-sized chunks following the current fad. That way they could also include Twenty20 cricket, Snooker Sixes, and five-a-side football rather than the controversial Undrr 23l game. Or even beach football; after all, you have beach volleyball.
Failing that, they could always spice things up by introducing the exhibition sport of waterboarding, to be contested by the Met Police and the CIA.
Ronaldo's departure is a blessing not a blow
Sir Alex Ferguson once said that he wouldn't sell Real Madrid a virus but he certainly hasn't sold them a dummy – although happily he will be spared the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo spitting his out so frequently. While Il Divo's departure may have his bevy of young female admirers sobbing into their hankies, in Real terms is he that great a loss for a gain of £80 million? That's enough bread to do some serious shopping and pay off a chunk of the debts incurred by the Glazers.
More knowledgeable football sages than I will argue that it could be as much a blessing as a blow, enabling Manchester United to keep Carlos Tevez and allow Wayne Rooney to generate his own R-factor more liberally up front, as he did for England against Andorra on Wednesday.
Inevitably it demonstrates once again that football is as much a game of monopoly for mercenaries as multi-millionaires. Everything and everyone has a price in the pursuit of a philosophy which decrees money can always buy success, something the club across the city have yet to prove.
Real Madrid have a sort of TV licence to print money because unlike Premier League clubs they can do individual deals with television companies without having to share it around. However, the chances of creating a monopoly in La Liga are remote with Barcelona able to play the same game off the field, and an even better one on it. Real may be dreaming of a renaissance of the galacticos but for a total of £136m, Kaka and Ronaldo will not plug the gaps in a defence so brutally exposed by Liverpool. While United have got real, the Real problem remains.