The country’s leading sevens players have warned that a failure to support their sport properly will have serious consequences for the growth of the entire game following the Rugby Football Union’s decision to cut its men’s and women’s squads for financial reasons.Formal notification has now been received by the players informing them their contracts will cease at the end of this month as the RFU faces up to potential losses of £107m in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which is already prompting a raft of job losses at Twickenham.
The RFU is now waiting to learn if UK Sport will allocate funding to a GB Team for next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, leaving the players scrambling for alternative employment for the next five months and fearing for their livelihoods. “We’re all concerned about the impact on the team that goes to Tokyo next year,” said Tom Mitchell, captain of the Great Britain side who earned silver medals at Rio in 2016.“Laying players off now is a massive risk. The Olympics is the biggest opportunity we have to reach people and to encourage them to get involved in the game. That’s not an opportunity we can afford to miss. After reaching the final in 2016 we all thought: ‘Brilliant, we can now go on and build on that.’ Now that’s in jeopardy, it is concerning.”With the world sevens series mothballed since February, several of England’s squad are now seeking opportunities in the 15-a-side game to try and maintain their match fitness and pay the bills. “We had the 9am Monday call to say there were no contracts from the end of this month,” said Mitchell. “You’ve got to make sure you have a source of income and if that is outside rugby so be it. I’ve had offers from a local touch side to go and train with them. At this point I might take it up, just to throw a ball around with someone.”
If UK Sport funding for a GB side is not forthcoming, future England sevens contracts are set to be on sharply reduced part-time terms, making it desperately hard for the squad to remain competitive. “Whether I end up playing in Tokyo or not I want to make sure the team that goes is in a decent spot,” said Mitchell. “There is a massive opportunity for sevens, in some ways, to be the future of rugby if we get it right. It’s short-sighted to miss this as an opportunity. Rugby is a massive sport in Britain and we need to create something of quality going into Tokyo if we’re going to do justice to that.”