More than 600 delegates and 30 exhibitors representing nearly 120 countries are attending the inaugural IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition in Dublin, which will be opened officially by IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset at 1.45pm today.
Key decision makers from the world of rugby and leading industry suppliers will be present at the Ballsbridge Hotel on Monday and Tuesday to share information and ideas about the game through various platforms.
Built around the IRB General Assembly and the IRB Medical Commission Conference, the IRB World Rugby Conference and Exhibition is guaranteed to be a truly global affair as representatives from the IRB’s 118 member Unions and Rugby World Cup organising committees will be present.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “This is a new venture for the IRB, but a stellar speaking line-up within an engaging conference programme and a sell-out event underscores the tremendous value in providing this opportunity.
“I am sure that the discussions will be informative, the workshops engaging and all delegates have a productive experience.”
In a packed agenda for day one, comprising three different plenary sessions and an hour-long workshop on anti-doping, a stellar line-up of keynote speakers will discuss a range of topics from event management and Olympic participation through to the impact of digital and online interaction in the rugby community.
As speaker on the opening panel session entitled ‘Winning Bids and Delivering Outstanding Rugby Events’, Debbie Jevans brings with her a wealth of experience in bidding for and delivering major events following on from her role as Director of Sport for the successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Jevans is now Chief Executive of England Rugby 2015, the organising committee for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
She will be joined on stage by, among others, VERO Communications Chairman Mike Lee, who has worked on several successful campaigns including Rio de Janeiro’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and PyeongChang’s 2018 Winter Games bid, as well as Rugby Sevens’ campaign for inclusion onto the Olympic programme.
Leo Varadkar TD, Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, will outline why governments back major sports events and how to maximise the potential socio-economic benefits that hosting the world’s most prestigious events can deliver.
The panel is completed by IRB Head of Rugby World Cup Kit McConnell, who has 15 years of experience in delivering major international sporting events and has recently been appointed as the International Olympic Committee’s new Sports Director.
The second session – ‘Optimising Olympic participation: The window of opportunity presented by Olympic inclusion’ -focuses on rugby’s inclusion on the Olympics Games programme for Rio 2016, 93 years after the United States won the sport’s last gold medal in Paris, and the benefits that its return can bring.
IRB Chief Executive Brett Gosper will sit on the panel alongside Rugby Canada’s Mike Chu, the IOC’s Head of NOC Games Services Toshio Tsurunaga and Pat Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees.
Running concurrently to the Olympic discussion is the anti-doping workshop, headed by Rob Koehler, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Director of Education and Project Development.
Koehler has been an integral member of WADA since 2002 and has been largely responsible for the advances made in initiating Regional Anti-Doping Organisations around the world, including the development of anti-doping programmes in 15 regions across more than 123 countries.
He will be joined by Felipe Contepomi, the former Leinster player and recently retired Argentina star who is an IRB Keep Rugby Clean Ambassador.
Before thoughts turn towards the British & Irish Lions and Australia-themed IRB Hall of Fame induction evening at the Aviva Stadium, there promises to be a fascinating insight into the commercial business of rugby and its relationship with the digital and online community.
In the third and final session of day one – ‘Sport and the digital environment: Engaging and expanding Rugby’s ever increasing audience’ – a top-level panel chaired by IRB Head of Commercial, Broadcast and Marketing Murray Barnett will draw on their insight and experience from working with leading sports brands, exploring emerging trends in social media and the new ways in which sports fans are consuming live events, as well as what the rugby family can do to capitalise on this area as profile of the sport continues to grow.
In addition to Tomos Grace, Strategic Partner Development Manager, Sport EMEA, at YouTube, who has previous experience at Canal+ and Eurosport, Barnett will be joined on the panel by Hugo Sharman, Director North and Special Events (UK) for deltatre media.
Alongside the Hall of Fame induction at the Aviva Stadium, four IRB awards will also be presented and 2011 Rugby World Cup winning captain Richie McCaw will present the Webb Ellis Cup to Lapasset in the official handover ceremony.
Meanwhile, the 11th IRB General Assembly got underway in Dublin on Sunday with the game, player welfare and the Olympic opportunity the headline agenda items.
Delegates from the IRB’s 118 Member Unions, six Regional Associations, IRB Council and IRB Executive Committee are attending the key biennial meeting, which brings together the global rugby family for two days of discussion, forums and workshops.
Bernard Lapasset opened the General Assembly with an address that reflected the progress made over the last two years by a sport now played by a record 5.5 million men, women and children, while looking ahead to the opportunities and challenges facing the game in a congested global sports and entertainment market.
“This is a pivotal and exciting time for our sport, following an unprecedented period of investment, growth and commercial success,” he said.
“We are presented with golden opportunities to grow participation, to grow audiences from the stadium to the armchair and to establish rugby as a truly global sport for all.
“We have exciting opportunities ahead. Rugby World Cups in England in 2015 and Japan in 2019, when the tournament will go to Asia for the first time, will drive growth and profile impetus, while we are already maximising the wonderful opportunity that Olympic Games inclusion has brought to our sport.
“We need to ensure from the stadium to the armchair that rugby continues to be compelling to play, watch and engage with.
“We also need to ensure as we grow that our participation strategies reach and inspire new boys and girls and that we continue to drive forward player welfare, integrity promotion and the fight against doping in sport. But rugby’s future offers far more opportunities than challenges.”