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Rugby Canada suffers Own The Podium funding blow to men's sevens team

Rugby Canada expected to take a hit on Own The Podium funding for its men's sevens team. But it did not expect the entire well to dry up.

Own The Podium has told Rugby Canada that the men's sevens squad, which got $850,000 in OTP recommended funding in 2016-17, won't get anything in fiscal 2017-18.

It's a harsh example of the link between Olympic funding and success on the playing field.

The Canadian men have struggled in recent years and failed to crack the 12-team field for the Rio Olympics.

Canada currently stands 12th in the World Series standings after four events, although it did finish fourth in Wellington under new coach Damian McGrath. He backs his starting seven players against anyone but says the program is suffering from lack of depth. Losing the funding money won't help his talent search.

The team was 13th overall last season, ninth in 2014-15 and sixth in 2013-14.

Rugby Sevens can be a capricious sport, where one poor showing at a tournament can mean the difference between contesting for the championship and being shunted to consolation play. For example, Canada won five of six games at last year's inaugural tournament in Vancouver and finished ninth. Its only blemish was a Day 1 loss to Wales on a try scored with no time remaining.

Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen says the men's sevens squad will continue to compete on the world stage. But the funding cut will be felt across the board. 

"It's not just the men's sevens program that will feel the impact of this. It's all of our programs." 

Vansen understands it's a "competitive landscape" for Olympic funding, especially with the addition of softball and baseball to the Olympic program in 2020. But the breadth of the OTP move was a surprise.

"Quite frankly we did expect there to be a decrease in funding through the Own The Podium program," Vansen said in an interview. "We didn't expect it to be a decrease to zero funding ... That's where we're obviously very disappointed."

The Canadian women won bronze at the Rio Olympics, are coming off a tournament win in Sydney and stand third in their overall standings. They are due to receive $1,970,000 for 2017-18 thanks to OTP’s Enhanced Excellence funding recommendations, according to Rugby Canada. 

Like the women's sevens players, the men are centralized in Langford, B.C.

The men's funding cut comes just weeks before the Canada Sevens, the home stop on the World Series. In its second year on the circuit, the Vancouver event has already become a hit with organizers releasing more tickets after the original allotment of 66,000 over the two days at B.C. place Stadium sold out.

The existing OTP funding for the men runs through March with stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London after that. Tournament organizers pay to transport teams so travel will not be a problem for the Canadian men. But Rugby Canada in the past has paid for additional days hotel to give the team more time to acclimatize.

Most of the OTP money has gone to create a centralized daily training environment with the men, including support staff.

Rugby Canada, whose annual budget will be close to $15 million this year, is now looking how to reallocate other funds to make up the OTP shortfall.

The goal is to improve the men's sevens team's ranking and earn back the OTP funding. Vansen says Rugby Canada believes the men can succeed on the circuit.

Vansen and McGrath are looking to make a positive out of a negative, saying the funding halt will force them to re-evaluate how they spend every dollar and to find the right budget balance.

"I'd be disappointed if it became a negative for us," said McGrath. "We've just got to re-assess what we're doing, realign our thoughts ... It would have been nice to have that almost $1 million but we haven't go it so what can we do instead? I think that's the way we've got to go."

Rugby Canada is hoping the move to the Al Charron Rugby Canada National Training Centre in Langford will provide efficiencies once the facility opens and all its team can train under the same roof. 

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