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We’ve just had six days of good rugby at the Olympics. Lots of people outside the rugby community have been drawn to sevens and commented on how much fun it is to watch. There seems no doubt that this Olympic tournament was a good thing for rugby and its fans.
Still, I am working hard to feel satisfied. And it is silly that I need to do any work at all to feel satisfied with something so clearly successful.
The women’s tournament was the best of the year. Because they’d been so good all year, I was happy enough to see Australia win the gold. Even though they didn’t end up on the podium, the USA Women’s team finished about as well as could be expected.
The men’s tournament featured captivating rugby. In keeping my online ears open, it seemed impossible to find anyone who begrudged Fiji their success. The fact that the USA men did not make the quarterfinals is a bummer. However, it is difficult for me to feel disappointed in, or by, any of the people involved.
I watched a bunch of good and interesting rugby. My heart wasn’t broken because the USA did not win any medals. More people around the world discovered how much fun it is to watch sevens. How in the world is that not satisfying? I was genuinely confused by my own relative ennui.
Then I realized what I had been hoping for without meaning to hope for it.
I wanted a statement.
“Rugby has arrived in America, and America has arrived on the world stage of rugby.”
That’s what I wanted this Olympics to say. It is hopelessly naïve and in no way in line with reality, but that’s what I wanted, even though I didn’t realize that’s what I was wanting.
Apparently, there was a part of me that thought the timing was right for such a statement. Indeed, there were some things which suggested such a statement was being drafted. Lots of things bounce around my head to create optimism when it comes to USA Rugby and rugby in America. In terms of shaping my experience watching the Olympics, there are two which stand out:
1) Professional rugby in America is here and doesn’t look like it is going anywhere. That’s the panacea, right?
2) I spent several Sundays this summer watching my kids play flag rugby with hundreds of other kids. It was impossible for me to see all those kids and all those families involved with rugby and not fill with some kind of looming expectation.
Looking now at those two justifications for my hope written out, my thought is, “I’m so foolish!”
I am ready for a different kind of conversation. “Yes, that’s right. USA is for real when it comes to rugby.” I don’t just mean national teams; I mean everything. We aren’t there yet. I know that. Rational me did not get the message to emotional me before the Olympics started.
Now that I realize what I was hoping for and why I was less-than satisfied during the live matches, I can adjust my perspective. Rugby was an exciting part of the Olympics. The teams that won were deserving winners and both were the most fun to watch. The momentum in America that was in place before the Olympics can only be boosted by that.
Even if the USA won two medals in Rio, it would not mean that everything is good for rugby in America. The fact that no medals were won does not mean that things are bad. That statement I am longing for will never be something that is shouted, all of a sudden, at one event; it will be whispered and whispered until those individual whispers become a collective roar.