Las Vegas News Bureau
Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | 1:55 a.m.
Mayor Oscar Goodman was declared Las Vegas' biggest rugby fan this morning at a press conference welcoming the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament to Las Vegas.
"We're becoming the sports capital of the world and having rugby here is so very, very integral in having that reputation," Goodman said. "The whole world now is going to be looking at rugby in Las Vegas."
The annual tournament, which has called San Diego home since 2007, will make its Las Vegas debut in February 2010 at Sam Boyd Stadium as part of a multi-year commitment.
"We anticipate that about 25,000 fans are going to come for the championships next February," said Rossi Ralenkotter, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. "That's about $17 million of non-gaming economic impact for our city."
The tournament may also become an Olympic qualifier, following an International Olympic Committee vote to include rugby in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
The IOC's acceptance of the sport was key to the tournament's relocation to Las Vegas.
"When we started to talk about rugby coming to Las Vegas I really wasn't turned on," Goodman said. "Having been advised that it has elevated to an importance that it didn't have when we started our initial discussions, because now it's an Olympic event for 2016 down in Rio, it is as good as it gets."
The competition features the national teams of 16 countries that will play 44 games of sevens rugby over two days.
However, event organizers insist that the fan festival, which could be compared to a multi-cultural rugby tailgate party, will be almost as important as the action on the field.
"The event itself is a long day, it's an eight-hour day," said USA Sevens Managing Director Ray Peterson. "You have the teams that you want to watch, then you can leave, go out into the festival, meet with your friends, have a beer, sample food from around the world, listen to music. That is the rugby experience."
Despite being an alien game to most Las Vegas residents, Peterson insists the sport is easy to pick up.
"Rugby sevens is an awfully easy sport to understand, even if you don't do any research," he said. "The games are only 14 minutes long and if you sit in the stands you will understand the entire scope and objective of the game by the second game."
Rob Cornelius, president of local rugby club the Las Vegas Blackjacks, sees the competition as an opportunity to make Las Vegas the strongest rugby community in North America.
"Our team was number two in the country and people here are starting to get more exposed to rugby," Cornelius said. "Hopefully this event will show them more. We'll be national champions and Las Vegas will turn into the rugby hub of the United States -- that's our goal."