USA Sevens supremo Mike Friday has launched an impassioned plea to World Rugby and the major unions not to sacrifice Sevens on the altar of financial expediency.
With unions around the globe facing financial meltdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fears are growing that heavyweight nations like New Zealand, Australia, France and the four Home Unions will cut their Sevens programmes to mitigate heavy losses.
With many continental borders closed the prospects of resuming the Sevens World Series look bleak, but Friday believes a way to protect Sevens must be found.
Failure to do so, he claims, would put rugby’s participation at future Olympics at risk and undo much of the work that has gone into making rugby a global game.
Friday, currently on half pay as USA Rugby fight a separate battle against bankruptcy, told The Rugby Paper: “I’m very concerned about the future of Sevens because if you look at the mature rugby nations, we’re often still seen as the snotty kid in the corner.
“I know 15s is the Blue Ribbon of world rugby, the essence of the game, and that countries like England, Australia and New Zealand are under huge pressure to divert all their funds there, but if we don’t embrace Sevens now and continue to drive it forward, we can never make rugby a truly global game, which would be disastrous for developing nations.
“We came out of the 2016 Olympics as one of the most attractive team sports, so we need to make sure we deliver that again next year in Tokyo because the Olympics will then want to keep Sevens and we should be part of it in order to create box-office events.
“That’s going to take lots of strategising and vision from everybody at the current time, but I truly believe Sevens can be the vehicle that transports rugby into being a global game in places like USA, China, India and Africa.
“We’re in a tough financial position but it’s short-term cashflow against long-term investment and what Sevens offers in abundance is a pathway for emerging nations and fantastic stadium experiences that drive ticket sales, broadcasting and world growth.”
While this year’s Olympics have been postponed until 2021, Friday believes what happens between now and then is equally important to protecting Sevens.
He explained: “There’s three components: the 2019/20 season and whether we can play the outstanding Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Paris events by October; what happens in the build-up to the Olympics; and what the Sevens series looks like post-Olympics.
“The biggest issue we face right now is global mobility and every country is at a different stage. Can we get back to being a global game? If not, we’ll need five or six tournaments prior to next year’s Olympics, so how do give our teams enough rugby?”
Meanwhile, the parlous state of USA Rugby means Friday cannot be certain he will keep his job.
“It’s a scary time for all of us,” he added. “We were on the ropes anyway and if you liken us to an unconditioned boxer, Covid-19 came and knocked us out.
“There are 30 players and nine staff that I’m worried about in my Sevens programme and it’s so important that we maintain the continuity and growth we’ve worked hard to achieve over the last five or six years.
“We’ve got the conveyor belt of talent working in America and we want to keep improving it, but it’s nervous times.”