A Rugby Canada deadline for disgruntled sevens players to sign contracts and report to training has come and gone with no apparent movement.
“The players are unanimously united in their stated position to keep the men’s 15s and men’s 7s [teams] separate like the other top 11 rugby-playing nations in the world,” said Melvin Reeves, the lawyer representing the sevens players.
Thirteen members of the national sevens program are in the second week of boycotting training by a centralized player pool that features players from both the 15s and sevens teams.
Rugby Canada announced plans in August to centralize a group of 40 to 50 men under contract “to maximize the development of Canada’s men’s national team players.”
But it has clearly failed to sell the idea to the sevens players.
In the past, the two teams essentially have trained apart in Langford, B.C., with separate coaches – with some 17 carded athletes in the sevens squad and up to 30 non-carded players in the 15s – although there has been some movement between the two. Canada’s top 15s talent plays professionally overseas.
In essence, the reorganization was an admission that Canada does not have the depth to run the two programs separately – and also that Rugby Canada has to focus more on the 15s program to maintain badly needed World Rugby funding.
In spreading funding over a larger pool or talent, some players are getting more money and some – in the sevens group – getting less.
Particularly galling to the sevens players is Rugby Canada’s move to cut the appearance fee for the Vancouver Sevens tournament to $500 from $5,000. Reeves calls the cut “outrageous given Rugby Canada’s profit of around $1.5-million from the tournament.”
The sevens players, many of whom have put careers on hold to play for Canada, are also upset at their Olympic sport being described as a development tool.
“It’s not about 7s vs 15s. It’s about the future, and there being a men’s 7s team in it,” co-captain Nate Hirayama tweeted.
The sevens players have said little openly. But veteran Harry Jones and Hirayama have used social media selectively to make their point.
“I can say with confidence that most people in Canada with any sort of real investment in rugby are concerned about the way things are going in this country from an organizational standpoint,” Hirayama tweeted.
As for Rugby Canada, chief executive officer Allen Vansen said the governing body is hopeful of settling the matter.
“Right now we are keeping the dialogue going with a view to reaching an outcome that works for everyone,” Vansen said in a email to The Canadian Press. “It’s a high priority for us, and we hope to have a resolution soon.
The Canadian 15s men are gearing up for a November repechage tournament that serves as a last-chance qualifier for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Canada, which has never missed a World Cup, will likely face a significant shortfall in World Rugby funding if it fails to qualify.
The sevens team, which finished ninth on the World Series last season, is slated to begin play in Dubai in November.