LONDON (AP) — The International Rugby Board will consider shifting the southern hemisphere championship in 2016 to free up top players for the sport's return to the Olympics.

IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said Wednesday that rugby "needs stars" when it is included in the games in Rio de Janeiro in the seven-a-side format, and "the way is open" for 15's players to compete for their countries.

The 15-man game was played at the 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924 Olympics before rugby was left out for nearly 100 years. Boosted by its party atmosphere, the IRB's seven-man series has recently gained in popularity.

Lapasset said it was a likely solution to move the annual tournament involving South Africa, Australia and New Zealand — which also will include Argentina from this year — so better-known 15-a-side players could compete at the Olympics in Brazil alongside sevens specialists.

A decision would not be taken until the schedule for the rugby sevens at the Rio Games was decided, Lapasset said, but attracting some big-name 15's players would help rugby's return to the biggest sporting stage.

"We have to be careful about the move at the moment." Lapasset told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the London Olympics. "We have to see what exactly the state is and confirm where the place is for rugby sevens (at the Olympics). We have to think more about that.

"We need stars at the Olympics. That is part of the discussion. For the moment the stars will be coming from sevens. We need to wait if some guys come from 15's."

The southern hemisphere competition, now known as the Rugby Championship, is played around August and September and would likely clash with the Rio Games in August 2016. Lapasset said the international rugby body would be "very happy" if some 15's stars were included at the Olympics, but that decision was up to the countries' national Olympic committees and rugby unions.

He also noted that the sevens game was now far more specialized, and it might be difficult for the likes of New Zealand center and 15-a-side World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams, Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper or South Africa wing Bryan Habana to adjust if they want to play at the Olympics.

But they are invited.

"Yes, we'd be happy (to see 15's players at the Olympics). The two games are rugby. The two disciplines are rugby," he said. "Fifteen and sevens is rugby and part of the success will be coming from the quality of the players on the field."

Rugby also had submitted a proposal to the IOC on the format of the sport in 2016, Lapasset said, but the Olympic body would wait until after the London Games to discuss the look of the sevens competition in Rio.

In a presentation inside London's Olympic Park and next to the main Olympic stadium, Lapasset said rugby's inclusion for the 2016 and 2020 games had "unlocked the door" to new audiences for the sport.

The United States is the two-time defending Olympic champion in rugby having won gold at the 1920 and 1924 games.


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