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Sevens told told to find new jobs with contracts due to expire next month
By Raga House | Fri 24 Jul, 2020 08:25

Leading members of the England Sevens squad say they have been told to find new jobs for up to five months with their funding due to expire on August 31. 

On the day the Olympics were due to start, Telegraph Sport can reveal that players fear Rugby Football Union cuts will have huge implications for their careers and chances in Tokyo next year with:

  • Players having been placed on furlough and told their contracts will not be renewed when they expire at the end of next month.
  • A fear that contracts will be worth much less if they are renewed at the start of next year.
  • Uncertainty over whether they will have enough time to prepare properly for the Olympics if the Team GB men’s squad is reassembled. 
  • Cost-cutting measures already implemented including backroom staff no longer being provided with lunch when on England duty, and players being told to buy their own energy sweets to save the RFU £300 per year.

England captain Tom Mitchell and Rio silver medallist Phil Burgess say they fear for the future of their sport after the Sevens programme was hit hard by RFU cuts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We have no job security. We have been advised because of all the uncertainty around sevens, finances and our programme to explore all opportunities,” Burgess told Telegraph Sport.

“I understand these things but we are young men and women who have given our bodies, minds, our everything to play and all we would like is something in return even if it is just the offer of a goodwill contract, which means that some guys get employment.”

And Burgess, who is looking for a job in management consultancy, admits that fears over the future means he may have to walk away from the sport ahead of what would have been his swansong in Tokyo. 

“I have a wife, a child and a mortgage to pay,” he said. “And I am being asked to find a job, keep fit and then ask this job if I can come away for six months to play rugby and then return to the job. In the current climate we are in, people are not just giving out jobs and employers want commitment. Why would anyone take a punt on someone who will be around for a few months and will then be away again?

Burgess is also concerned that the cuts and enforced absence from training will mean Team GB will struggle to match their achievements from 2016, when the men’s team won the silver medal. 

“We don’t know what the programme is going to look like,” he said. “And this is where I believe that the RFU have been slightly short sighted - if they want us to be playing next year at any level of sevens, we need to play some rugby. If some of our players are not going to be able to play competitive rugby until next year, how are they supposed to be in the best position to fight for an England or GB shirt?”

Unlike other Olympic sports, the Team GB rugby Sevens side is mostly compromised of England players, with the setup receiving no UK Sport funding. It is understood the RFU are now in talks with UK Sport over funding for Tokyo as the governing body is considering scrapping their Sevens programme in order to save £2 million annually. The hope was that the English, Scottish and Welsh unions would, along with UK Sport, set up a central funding pot for a GB Olympic team but the Scots resisted as they see the Sevens World Series as crucial tournaments in developing young talent. 

And Burgess now fears any contracts that are offered will be significantly reduced, with players asked to play for the honour of competing in the Olympics.

 “I feel for those players who are younger or who missed out on the opportunity to go to Rio,” he said. “[I worry] they are going to be offered contracts that are incredibly reduced financially and the reason they are doing it is that they want the draw of the Olympics to be the thing that brings people to come and play.

An RFU spokesperson said: "As a result of Covid-19, we are expecting revenue losses ranging between £73m and £107m for this financial year and 20 per cent reductions over the next 4-5 years.

"To ensure we have a sustainable RFU, we have announced a proposal to reduce the number of roles across the organisation. We have also advised our Rugby 7s Men's and Women’s players that we may not be able to renew their contracts when they expire over the summer and are in discussion with UK Sport and World Rugby about this.

“We are now in a period of consultation with colleagues. The RFU executive team are continuing to take voluntary pay reductions. Our loss in revenues mean we are having to make difficult decisions on what we can continue to invest in.

"We have approached UK Sport for funding and are exploring the option for a Team GB 7s team, we are also in dialogue with World Rugby about the programme for the World Sevens Series and when games are likely to be played. With no current support in funding we don’t believe we can sustain the team in its current format which means we may have to look at different ways of contracting 7s players and staff".

-The Telegraph 

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