Rugby sevens' Olympic status is key to game's growth - Bill Beaumont
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont hailed rugby sevens' successful introduction to the Olympics as a potential game-changer for the sport's global popularity.
The game's abbreviated version was a smash hit in Rio as Fiji won their first ever Olympic medal by claiming the men's title and Australia won the women's competition.
Research for World Rugby, the game's governing body, has revealed the first Olympic rugby tournament since 1924 attracted nearly 17 million new fans in six core markets.
Speaking to Press Association Sport at World Rugby's annual conference in London, Beaumont said: "The Olympic tournament was a phenomenal success and we are already seeing the results at grass-roots.
"The key now is to build on the increased interest in our sport and we'll be spending 20% more on developing the game in the next four-year cycle - sevens will be a massive part of that.
"Sevens can be a great introduction to 15-a-side rugby, and fifteens can be a great way into sevens, but we know sevens is the ideal vehicle to grow the game."
The former England captain said his next challenge will be to make sure rugby sevens maintains its Olympic status, as it was introduced - along with golf - on a two-Games basis in 2009.
Beaumont met senior International Olympic Committee staff in Japan last month when he was visiting the hosts of the next Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the next Summer Olympics a year later.
A decision on whether to add rugby sevens to the core programme will be made by the IOC in Peru next September, with Beaumont confident that the IOC will approve the permanent addition of two 12-team tournaments for 2024 and beyond.
"We are not presumptuous about our place in the schedule at all but I think we delivered a great event in Rio," the 64-year-old Englishman said.
"Whenever I met an IOC member in a hotel restaurant or lift during the first week in Rio they would quickly look down at my accreditation to see who I was and usually say nothing. But after Fiji won, well, everybody wanted to congratulate me on the amazing tournament."
World Rugby's Rio impact research was conducted by Nielsen Sports in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, and was based on online surveys before and after the Games.
It found that Olympic status had grown the sport's reach, particularly with women and the 18-24 age group. It also found that rugby outperformed other sports on the Olympic programme in terms of growth in interest after Rio 2016, with an average increase of 10%.
In terms of the television, nearly four in 10 18-24s in the UK watched as Great Britain's men claimed a silver medal and the women lost the bronze medal match in Rio, while World Rugby's social media fan-base grew by 670,000 during 2016.