What Eng­land’s sevens are do­ing How play­ers are earn­ing a liv­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Covid Crisis -

Dan Bibby:

dad

Phil Direc­tor of rugby at Cran­leigh School

Burgess: Tom Bowen:

Coach­ing teenagers (paid and vol­un­tary)

Tom Mitchell:

Rugby coach­ing, cor­po­rate per­for­mance coach­ing

Se­nior academy con­tract at Sara­cens

Ben Harris: Will Muir:

Stay-ath­ome

Signed XVs con­tract at Bath Signed XVs con­tract at London Ir­ish

Charl­ton Kerr: Dan Nor­ton:

XVs con­tract at London Ir­ish

Richard de Car­pen­tier:

Coach­ing in a school and on pri­vate ba­sis

Ethan Wad­dle­ton:

Re­cov­er­ing from knee surgery

Tom Emery:

Skills and at­tack coach at St Joseph’s Col­lege, Ip­swich

Al­fie John­son:

Study­ing eco­nom­ics at New­cas­tle Univer­sity

Study­ing at Brunel Uni and at Eal­ing Trail­find­ers academy

Will Hendy: Will Ed­wards:

Chem­istry teacher

Ol­lie Lind­say-Hague:

Re­cov­er­ing from shoul­der surgery

Oil bro­ker Fi­nan­cial

Mike Ellery: Harry Glover:

stud­ies

Alex Davis:

Un­em­ployed, part-time gardening play­ers, it seems like there was a lot of un­nec­es­sary stress, anx­i­ety and frus­tra­tion.

“My wife has been great, but I don’t sup­pose she has en­joyed those days when I have been mis­er­able. And the same for a lot of the other guys – ev­ery time Dan Bibby puts the call on, you can hear his chil­dren scream­ing and want­ing to play, but he is try­ing to ask a ques­tion about his con­tract for next year and re­dun­dancy pay.”

Bibby’s life was flipped on its head at the be­gin­ning of the lock­down in March, when he re­turned from the Los Angeles and Van­cou­ver legs of the World Se­ries and went from full­time ath­lete to stay-at-home dad.

Sens­ing that the fu­ture for sevens would be bleak, the Bib­bys de­cided to put their London home on the mar­ket and move closer to fam­ily in the North.

“I went through waves,” the 29-year-old says. “I started off with more good days at the be­gin­ning. I had just got back from Van­cou­ver and it was great to spend time with the kids. Then I got to a point where I found it very tough – as you could only go out once, I had to take the dogs out and then get the kids out be­cause Jude was six months old.

“We had a plan for if the sevens started again – that we would take the house off the mar­ket or I would just com­mute down. But at the end of the lock­down we were told the bad news.”

Par­ent­hood has, how­ever, given Bibby a sense of per­spec­tive. “It has been a chal­lenge for me in a whole new way and I think the boys have come on so much hav­ing me home. I was away so of­ten. I think my older boy, Jasper, is a lot more con­fi­dent from hav­ing me around more.

“This next Olympics is still a goal of mine and I will do ev­ery­thing I can to get there, but I have done one and I have played pro­fes­sion­ally for eight, nine years. But I felt quite sorry for the young lads who haven’t had a chance to go to the Olympics yet who are just at the start of their ca­reers.”

Burgess was ready to re­tire ear­lier in the sum­mer but, per­versely, the de­ci­sion to axe the pro­gramme – which he de­scribes as “flab­ber­gast­ing” – in­spired him to keep go­ing.

“For one thing, it was taken away from me, but also I felt like I could have done more,” he says. “I can do more to try and force things to hap­pen. If I can get to Tokyo and play then that would be amaz­ing, but if I get there and I am not picked, I will have given the guys the chance to com­pete and do the best that we can.”

Mitchell echoes that sen­ti­ment. “There was a bit of me, at one point, that thought ‘is this it for me?’ I am 31 now; I was prob­a­bly go­ing to move on from sevens af­ter the Olympics and look to do some other rugby.

“Is fate deal­ing me that hand and should I just lis­ten to it? I did pon­der on that for a while. I would love to be in the Tokyo gold medal-win­ning squad, but if that doesn’t hap­pen for me, at least it can hap­pen for some­body else.”

As the pho­tog­ra­pher who has come to take por­traits of Mitchell packs up his equip­ment, he ex­plains that he will be shoot­ing at the Tokyo Olympics and hopes he will see the player there. “I hope so, too,” Mitchell says, smil­ing rather sadly.

He knows that dream might be fur­ther away than ever but, de­spite the wel­ter of neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing the sport’s fu­ture – which mush­roomed again yes­ter­day with news of tighter re­stric­tions for at least the next six months – Mitchell has to try to stay up­beat.

“I want us to fin­ish the jour­ney and for peo­ple to have the chance to achieve what they want to achieve.

“And you never know what good­ness can come out of these sit­u­a­tions. That is what I am cling­ing onto to stay sane.”

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