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Olympic Games 2016: Samba sevens as Brazil granted rugby spots

updated 6:08 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
Rugby has become increasingly popular from Copacabana Beach to the rugby pitches of Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere
Rugby has become increasingly popular from Copacabana Beach to the rugby pitches of Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • IRB grant automatic qualification spots to Brazil men's and women's teams for 2016
  • Chairman Bernard Lapasset calls it "good for rugby, good for Braztil and good for the Games"
  • Sevens will make its Olympic bow in Rio with 12-team tournaments for both sexes
  • Rugby participation on the rise in the South American nation where football is king

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(CNN) -- As a nation, Brazil might be better known for its round rather than oval-ball prowess but the World Cup host has been granted automatic spots in the rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympics.

Sevens is making its Olympic bow in Rio de Janeiro and increasingly teams in the Brazilian city are seen practicing on the iconic Copacabana Beach and elsewhere - overall in the country, rugby participation in Brazil has risen by 25% since 2011.

On the international stage, Brazil is far from a powerhouse of the sevens discipline but the International Rugby Board has now decreed that, as hosts, it will automatically qualify for both the men's and women's tournaments.

It means the qualification criteria for the rest of the Olympic hopefuls is even tougher with one less place up for grabs.

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IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset explained: "The decision to include Brazil is good for rugby, good for Brazil and good for the Games. Rugby in Brazil is experiencing rapid growth and inclusion will generate further impetus and excitement while giving the Brazilian rugby family and sports fans across the nation something really special to look forward to at their home Olympics.

"We are excited and honored for rugby sevens to be making its Olympic Games debut in Rio and believe that the Games will be great for rugby and rugby will be great for the Games."

Rugby is thought to have been brought to Brazil by British immigrants in the late 19th Century, the first recorded match taking place in 1888 in Sao Paulo. But the game has struggled to take off, in part due to the vast size of the country and partly because of the lack of infrastructure.

The IRB are seeking to address that and last year injected $400,000 into rugby in Brazil in order to increase participation, while 9,000 children have been introduced to the sport via its Get Into Rugby Program.

Rio will also host round three of the IRB Women's Sevens World Series from 21-22 February.

Read: Rugby legend Lomu brings muscle to Rio's campaign

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