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Planning starts anew for rugby sevens teams in wake of Olympic postponement

Hours after the IOC pushed back the Tokyo Olympics to 2021, Canadian women's rugby sevens coach John Tait scheduled a conference call with his players.
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Hours after the IOC pushed back the Tokyo Olympics to 2021, Canadian women's rugby sevens coach John Tait scheduled a conference call with his players.

Topics included what's next — and whether the players were willing to keep sacrificing for the cause. Some had already considered retirement after the Tokyo Games, originally slated for July.

Asked if he expected any of his charges not to keep going, Tait paused.

"I guess I don't know," he said. "I'd be surprised, with all the work that they've put in, if they aren't willing to extend that for another 12 months. But it's a big decision.

"And it's not just themselves, they've got partners in some cases they've been living away from for years now. I know they were looking forward to that post-games life. Not as much as the games themselves but certainly they were looking forward to that.

"So I think they are some big decisions that are going to have to happen with those players, because it is a massive commitment for all of them. But again it's always a unique opportunity to represent your country at an Olympic Games. I think that will probably outweigh the decision for most of them, if not all of them."

Like the men, the women's rugby sevens players are centralized in Victoria. Both teams have seen the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series cleaned out by COVID-19 postponements with London, Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore events as well as the May 2-3 stop in Langford, B.C., pushed back to later in the year.

The London and Singapore events were for the men only. Paris and Hong Kong involved both the men and women. Langford is the Canadian stop on the women's circuit, scheduled for May 2-3 in Langford, B.C.

Henry Paul, coach of the Canadian men's team, also welcomed the IOCs decision to delay the games.

"It gives everyone time to prepare now," he said. "Good preparation rather than rushed and dangerous."

The Canadian women, like the men, are working out individually while maintaining social distancing, as per health authorities.

Assuming that is not going to change any time soon, Tait's message is to use the next eight weeks as a break from the normal intensive training.

"As soon as we get the all clear, hopefully by mid-summer with everything feeling safe and secure, we'll be able to get back together," said Tait, who doubles as Rugby Canada's director of women's performance rugby.

"We'll dive right in when we get the green light," he added.

The Olympic delay should allow rugby qualifying to be completed. World Rugby had previously said the Olympic repechage qualification tournament scheduled for June was "under review." There are two women's and one men's teams left to qualify.

The Canadian women won bronze four years ago in Rio and currently stand third in the World Series standings. The men, who are eighth in the World Series after earning bronze at the recent Canada Sevens, failed to qualify four years ago but have already booked their ticket to Tokyo.

The 2019-20 World Series season started in October for the women and December for the men. There were eight tournaments originally slated for the women and 10 for the men.

So if the postponed events do take place later this year ahead of the new season, the rugby sevens teams will have an extensive runway ahead of landing in Tokyo.

Like many Canadians, Tait started the day with a coffee and the news to get the latest update. It also involved leaving out breakfast for his 14-year-old daughter, who is in self-isolation in the basement after flying home Monday from a rugby tour of New Zealand that was cut short.

"Happy to have her home, safe," said Tait, a former Canadian international himself.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2020.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press




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