RFU pulls plug on Sev­ens

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Rugby Union By Kate Rowan

The Eng­land men’s and women’s Sev­ens squads have been told by the Rugby Foot­ball Union that their pro­fes­sional con­tracts will not be re­newed when they ex­pire at the end of the month. Play­ers now fear this will se­verely harm Team GB’s chances of Sev­ens medal suc­cess at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

The Rugby Foot­ball Union has scrapped its pro­fes­sional sev­ens pro­gramme.

The Eng­land men’s and women’s squads were in­formed this week that once their con­tracts are up at the end of this month, they will not be of­fered new deals. Lead­ing play­ers be­lieve this could se­verely dam­age medal chances for Team GB at the Olympics.

Play­ers had been told last month to “ex­plore their op­tions” un­til the World Se­ries was due to re­sume early next year, and that they would be out of con­tract for five months. How­ever, se­nior play­ers, in­clud­ing sev­ens all-time high­est try-scorer Dan Nor­ton and 2018 Com­mon­wealth Games bronze medal­list, Richard de Car­pen­tier, have ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion at now be­ing out of a job.

Play­ers have also been left “dev­as­tated”, by the fund­ing cut a year out from the Olympics. Some were up­set that they re­ceived a one-line sev­er­ance let­ter from the RFU af­ter the ini­tial vir­tual meet­ing where they learnt of their fate.

Olympic sil­ver medal­list Nor­ton said: “The more I think about it, the more frus­trated I get. I have been for­tu­nate enough to give 10 years and I do know that pro­fes­sional sport is pretty ruth­less, we gave our all but the way things have been done now, to take be­ing so close to an Olympics and be­ing sacked, it is pretty bit­ter­sweet to have to swal­low.”

It is un­der­stood play­ers would be con­tracted from a tour­na­mentto-tour­na­ment ba­sis, but only a small num­ber of sev­ens play­ers have at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Pre­mier­ship clubs for XVs con­tracts.

At the Rio Olympics, the bulk of Team GB was made up of Eng­land play­ers and it would have been the same for Tokyo, with the men look­ing to be medal con­tenders, want­ing to go one bet­ter than 2016 and hav­ing won a Com­mon­wealth bronze in 2018, fol­lowed by an ap­pear­ance in the World Cup Sev­ens later that year.

Nor­ton (right) de­spite his com­mit­ment to sev­ens over 10 years, is con­cerned about Team GB. “With the things that have hap­pened at the RFU, the con­ver­sa­tions we have had, they are not will­ing to lend suf­fi­cient sup­port to win a gold medal.”

Un­like most Olympic sports, does not re­ceive UK Sport fund­ing. An RFU spokesper­son said: “We have ap­proached UK Sport for fund­ing and are ex­plor­ing the op­tion for a Team GB sev­ens team, we are also in di­a­logue with World Rugby about the pro­gramme for the World Sev­ens Se­ries and when games are likely to be played. With no cur­rent sup­port in fund­ing we are not in a po­si­tion to sus­tain the team in its cur­rent for­mat.” De Car­pen­tier, who is yet to be­come an Olympian hav­ing missed out on Rio, is des­per­ate to make the Games but is wor­ried for his fam­ily and wants to put his wife and son first, so much so that he is con­sid­er­ing sell­ing their home in Lon­don and liv­ing with fam­ily. “My ma­jor goal in rugby is to go to the Olympics, but at the same time I have to do what­ever needs to be done to keep our child fed and to keep a roof over our heads.” The play­ers had been ad­vised to live within 30 miles of their base in Ted­ding­ton, south-west Lon­don.

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