International_Rugby_Board_logoAUGUST 22 - THE International Rugby Board (IRB) are to introduce a new rule that clubs must release players to take part in the Olympics if it is accepted on to the Games programme for 2016.

It is designed to avoid the kind of club versus country row that overshadowed the start of the Olympic football tournament in Beijing.

IRB regulations state that clubs are obligated to release players for international matches, but those do not currently mention the Olympics, which rugby has not participated in since the Paris Games of 1924.

So the Dublin-based governing body will use a council meeting in November to set a specific agreement to secure players' release for the Olympic Games period.

IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset: "It's very important that the top players will be with us.

"Everyone - the clubs, the unions, the players, everyone - said that any updated version [of the regulations]...has to be carved out within that the players will be released for the Olympic Games."

Like football, the main concern for rugby in the player availability situation would be the wealthy European clubs which contract players from all over the world.

Some of Europe's biggest football clubs won an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport against being forced to release star players for the Olympic tournament.

Rugby is pushing for its condensed Sevens format - a regular side has 15 players - to be included in the Olympics.

The IRB said it had the full backing of the players and was in continuous talks with the International Rugby Players' Association over issues including the rest period for international matches.

Lapasset said: "All the top players are involved in this process.

"They support the sevens in the Olympic movement and we receive the support of all the top level players."

Rugby sevens is one of seven sports bidding to be included on the programme for 2016.

A decision is due to be made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at its Session in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Lapasset has spent the last three weeks in Beijing lobbying for his sport's inclusion and has met with 70 IOC members.

He said: "We're seeing good support from a lot of people around the world and I am surprised about that.

"Probably it's a good support now to rejoin the Olympics movement, to be recognised apart of the family, which we are."

Under their plans, the IRB would organise the rugby tournament in the main stadium between the opening ceremony and the start of the athletics.

Mike Miller, the IRB's chief executive, said: "You have a stadium that is empty for a week after the opening ceremony.

"We can fill that."

England's Rugby Football Union are among those supporting the IRB's campaign.

Martyn Thomas, the chairman of the RFU's management board, has promised that if rugby is accepted into the Olympics the four Home Countries will happily play under a British banner unlike football where Scotland and Wales are refusing to join a Team GB because of fear they will lose their independence.

Thomas said: "We are the governing body for sport in England but we have got a wider perspective and we want to see the game develop worldwide.

"If we had the opportunity I am sure all the governing bodies would want to see a Great Britain team at the Olympics.

"In a sense we have a precedent with the British Lions.

"It would be fantastic and I am sure everyone would be right behind it."