— Published 28 April 2023

“Rugby can make its mark on the Games”.

Beautiful setting for a newcomer. At the Paris 2024 Games, rugby 7s will have its third Olympic adventure, after Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, on the pitch and in front of the stands of the Stade de France. Two weeks later, its Paralympic version, the wheelchair rugby, will be installed in the middle of Paris, at the Arena Champ de Mars. Promising.

Less than 500 days before the event, FrancsJeux continues with Raphaël Gamba (photo above), in charge of the two disciplines within the OCOG, its series of interviews with the sports managers of Paris 2024.

FrancsJeux: Your life before the OCOG Paris 2024?

Raphaël Gamba: Before joining the OCOG, I spent eight years at the French Rugby Federation (FFR), between 2013 and 2021. I started as an assistant in the events department and ended up as deputy head of the same department. My mission was to deliver all the competitions organized in France, in 15-a-side rugby, in 7-a-side rugby, in beach rugby, including the Women’s World Cup and the Under 20 World Cup. I was also the director of the French stages of the HSBC Sevens Series for men and women.

Your past experience of the Olympic Games?

The Tokyo 2020 Games, where I had the chance to participate in the Paris 2024 observer program for the Olympic event. I was hosted by World Rugby and the Rugby 7s manager at the organizing committee. A unique experience, lived in the very particular context of these Games without public in the stands. The Rugby 7’s venue was shared with soccer and modern pentathlon. My field experience was very interesting to discover the interaction of all parties involved, especially during the two transition phases between the sports.

What is your favorite memory from the Games?

It also goes back to the Tokyo 2020 Games: the silver medal of the French women’s team in the rugby 7s tournament. The French women were beaten in the final by New Zealand, but they won the first French medal in history in this discipline. I had the chance to live it from the inside, among the few privileged people present in the stadium. I was able to share their moment of joy. My freshest and most striking Olympic memory.

The file at the top of the pile on your desk?

The selection of National Technical Officials (NTOs) for the Rugby 7s and Wheelchair tournaments. We will select 19 for the Olympic Games and 12 for the Paralympics. But the approach is different between the two competitions. For Rugby 7s, we want to involve all the strata and stakeholders of French rugby, so we will select representatives from the FFR, the League, the UNSS, amateur and professional rugby, but also from Rugby Europe. We will then offer them a training program, including an appearance on a stage of the world circuit in Toulouse. For the Paralympic Games, the pool is smaller. We will therefore train new profiles, then launch them into the big bath during a test scheduled for next August and, subsequently, on various tournaments before the Games. The training of these national technical officials, especially French, will be one of the legacies of Paris 2024 for wheelchair rugby.

Rugby 7s and wheelchair rugby venues: their assets, the challenge in the perspective of the Games?

The two venues have changed from the initial plan. Rugby 7s was planned for the Jean-Bouin stadium, but will now take place at the Stade de France. Wheelchair rugby was to be played at Le Bourget, it has been moved to the Arena Champ de Mars, in the heart of Paris. In both cases, the ambition is the same: to take advantage of these two sites to promote rugby at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the Stade de France, rugby 7s will start on July 24, two days before the opening ceremony. It will provide the first images of the Games. They should reflect the ambition of the OCOG. The Olympic tournament will also be the first competition of a women’s team sport at the Stade de France since its construction. The challenge is twofold: to find the balance between the organization of the rugby 7s, athletics and the closing ceremony on the same site; and to fill the 60,000 seats of the stadium. This last ambition is very important for World Rugby, as the Paris 2024 Games will be the first to be held in a real rugby country and in front of a public. For wheelchair rugby, the Champ de Mars Arena is a temporary venue, shared with judo and wrestling. We will have to optimize the spaces for an optimal configuration, by providing specific facilities for wheelchair players.

Paris 2024 will be a success for rugby if…

For rugby, the Paris 2024 Games will represent a historic opportunity to make its mark on the event. They can be a great opportunity to showcase both disciplines to a maximum number of people around the world. The Games will be a success if we fill the stadium. And if we manage, by taking care of all the details, to find the right balance between the level of services offered to all – players, officials, spectators – and the respect of the budget.