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Long before its men and women tackle the 2016 Olympics, Rugby Canada is seeking to win the support of something that could help push them toward a coveted podium spot.
On Jan. 26, Rugby Canada CEO Graham Brown and the organization’s high-performance staff will make a presentation to the Government of Canada’s Own The Podium initiative in a bid for funding to help develop medal-winning athletes for the 2016 Olympics.
Rugby Canada has been in talks with OTP officials since June this year and has spent the last two months researching and compiling information in an attempt to garner financial and personnel support from the organization.
Trevor Arnold, Rugby Canada’s Director of Rugby, says the review will be comprehensive.
“We’re going through a really in-depth review,” Arnold said. “The biggest part is definitely gap analysis and showing you have the capacity to take the resources and improve.”
The ability to tap into the resources provided by OTP came after the International Rugby Board announced in 2009 that rugby sevens would grace the world stage at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After establishing contact with OTP, Rugby Canada officials set the wheels in motion to begin a review process of not only their own operations, but of the competition they would face in the Olympics.
This is because OTP provides resources to programs it identifies as having podium potential.
Organizations such as Rugby Canada must show what boundaries lie between their men’s and women’s teams and a podium spot and how they plan to overcome those boundaries, or gaps.
In OTP’s terms, this is called gap analysis. In large part, this is where Rugby Canada’s recently appointed high-performance manager Les Gilson comes in.
“One of my major endeavours right now is working with OTP and the high-performance staff at Rugby Canada and putting together our presentation,” Gilson said. “Identifying what are we going to do leading up to Rio, what are we going to do leading up to qualifying. That comes down to a six-year plan.”
In simple terms, Rugby Canada must identify the best rugby sevens teams in the world, how they have been able to produce their success and how this differs from Canada’s teams and their preparations.
Once these have been identified, it is a matter of showing OTP how its resources would be used comprehensively to close these gaps and therefore create Canadian teams with a better chance of medalling in 2016.
Sounds simple enough.
For Gilson, identifying the gaps requires significant research and will be an ongoing process leading up to the presentation date.
“For example, the last world cup sevens winners, how do they prepare for a tournament different to us?” he said. “We’re looking at doing gap analysis on four different programs and doing four different plans for those programs. So I think we have a little bit more of a challenge than the traditional Olympic sports because we have this split of players.”
One of the realities of the OTP support is that it looks to provide extra funding to already success programs to ensure greatness.
“They’re not giving the money so you can go from 11th to 9th, they’re giving it so you can win a medal,” Arnold said. “The men have a bigger gap, where on the women’s side we believe we are one of the top nations.”
But with gap analysis comes the ability to discover where your programs perceived weakness are and this will allow Rugby Canada to improve both its men’s and women’s sevens development.
“We’re analysing our competition.” Arnold said. “It’s identifying what other countries are doing and what the gap is and figuring out what we need to do to fill that gap. You’re never going to beat a better team if they’re doing things better than you are.”
So long before Canada’s rugby athletes hit the world stage with the weight of a nation’s expectations on their backs, the suits in the Rugby Canada world will head to Ottawa with a similarly heavy weight on theirs as they try to garner support of Olympic proportions.
“Obviously the hope for us is financial support from OTP. The sports they got behind in the winter Olympics really produced for Canada,” Gilson said. “With the help and partnership of OTP I think we can change a lot of things for the good.”
Rugby Canada officials will present to Own The Podium in Ottawa on Jan. 26 and expect to hear back from the organization on whether the funding application was successful by the end of February.