MEEK: What is your biggest take away from these days of the Olympics Rugby?
PAYNE: The greatest thing is to celebrate the Olympic experience for our men and our women, our coaching staffs who have dedicated their lives to this opportunity. That is what you always think of first, so we have to thank them first and be thankful for all the time and energy they have put towards this opportunity of representing our country at the Olympics. Secondly, the broader picture is the awareness and growth that we must carry on as a rugby playing nation. We must all shoulder the momentum that these athletes and coaches have started by competing in the Olympics. We just heard that there have been over 30 million hits on the USA rugby website since August 6th. That is unprecedented in our history as a rugby playing nation. That means that there is the interest, enthusiasm and the intrigue in the sport and now it is up to us who are currently vested in the community to take the ball and run with it.
MEEK: As a former Eagle and now the CEO of USA Rugby, what did you think about the New England Patriots taking a break in their schedule to watch their teammate Nate Ebner compete for the Eagles in the Olympics?
PAYNE: As an American that makes me most proud. That is something that was done because it is the Olympics and we are the United States, the red, white and blue. First and foremost it makes me proud as an American. Everything that comes after that is bonus. Coach Bill Belichick and Nate’s teammates making the choice to do that obviously means the world to Nate, but it also means the world to us as rugby fans. Mr. Kraft and are Patriots through and through and they operate one of the preeminent sports organizations in the world. We thank them for recognizing one of theirs and allowing him to come compete for us and knowing that he is also one of ours.
MEEK: Were there any surprises, positive or negative, about this first Rugby 7s Olympics?
PAYNE: This Olympics was a blank slate for everyone; this is the first Olympics for all of us with regards to modern rugby. You have some shine on the experience and you don’t want the result to detract from the magnitude of the Olympic moment for our sport. For all of us who have been here and shared the experience it has been pretty special. Now I just think of how we carry on and your mind shifts towards how we use this as a starting point for future growth. We need to push forward and keep everyone of the mindset that there is no silver bullet. There have been plenty of Olympic sports that have been on TV for decades that come the Monday after the Olympics ended, aren’t heard of for four more years. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to continue to have everyone shoulder some of the burden and responsibility of identifying new fans, identify new players, get more people coaching. We have to continue to encourage non-rugby players to get into coaching at the youth level. Once you get the rugby bug, it is an irrational passion forever. It has been fun this week to be around so many people who share that irrational passion.
MEEK: Lastly, is there anything in particular you would like to see out of the membership following the Olympics to help push rugby forward, so it’s not just that once every four year Olympic experience?
PAYNE: I don’t believe it will be. I think that there is a groundswell and it is perfect timing from so many different points. The women’s performance was phenomenal, the Women’s NCAA initiative is a strong movement and there is a huge opportunity to grow the game on that front. On that side it is an exciting opportunity to push our competitive contact sport for our young girls and our college age women and above. I really look forward to the growth on both the men’s and women’s side and most of that comes from an inspired membership. There is a huge groundswell of international support and the meetings I have had this week and that are scheduled for the rest of the week have come to fruition because of the opportunity we earned to participate in the Olympics. We have to take active control and own our growth. We have to actively get out and push the growth of the game at all levels. There is going to be a strong initiative with the 8, 9 and 10 yearolds. We need everyone who has ever been involved in rugby and you want to give back to the game the best thing you can do is to get out and volunteer with youth rugby by getting that ball in the hands of young kids and preteens and help them catch that bug. 10 years from now is going to happen. Let’s all invest in the 8,9 and 10-yearolds today that will be the future fans, players and coaches. It’s a generation of growth if we commit to at all levels!
MEEK: Thanks Dan.
PAYNE: Thank you.
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