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Six weeks removed from Rio and just over two months from the start of the 2016/2017 HSBC Sevens World Series, the men’s 7s team is back full-time at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. The core training group congregated last week, and this week marks the first high performance camp of the season. The women will join them next week.
The coaches for both programs have agreed to contract extensions with an eye towards Tokyo 2020. The contracts for head and assistant men’s coaches Mike Friday and Chris Brown were through 2016, but they’ve agreed to stay on into the next Olympic cycle. Women’s head coach Richie Walker’s contract had him through 2017, but it’s been extended.
12 residency contracts were offered to men’s players, and it’s anticipated only 11 will be accepted, as one injured player is choosing to rehab off site. Several of the women’s contracts are out, too. The amount of contracts and their worth will now deflate back to pre-Rio numbers.
“Everyone’s on the normal training stipend that had been for the four years. The change was for eight months this year we were able to basically double that stipend to ensure they could just focus on playing rugby for that eight months,” USA Rugby director of performance Alex Magleby told Rugby Today.
“What everybody involved needs to understand is for both those teams the funding mechanism is almost primarily USOC grants or donations. It’s very much philanthropic based. There’s no events we own, there’s no TV rights, and if we did have them people would have to get up at three in the morning to watch, no one’s buying the jersey en masse, and sponsorships were locked in a long time ago and they’re kind of dying off now. So it’s sort of, what other funding sources do you have now, and it’s grants and donations. It’s very much an Olympic program.”
Pay for the athletes and the amount training full time could go up in time, but currently the USOC grants are in limbo, as the organization puts Rio to bed and turns an eye toward the 2018 Winter Games. Magleby is anticipating that in October he'll know what to expect for 2017, but beyond that is up in the air.
“Most of my job has been just managing the fact that we don’t know future revenues – so what do we hope they’re going to be, what do we think they’re going to be, and then what happens if shit hits the fan?” said Magleby. “Then you have three budget plans to manage that. That’s for World Rugby, as well, for sponsorship, as well, and for donations, as well.
“I don’t anticipate the USOC dramatically decreasing funding. The message has always been this is an eight-year plan. We feel we’re further along than expected on the original plan.”
So, at least for now, the plans for the upcoming four years look similar to the last cycle. The difference is the coaches for both the men and women are entrenched, both teams have experienced recent relative success, and there is hope that with both qualifying for Rio and showing improvement that more money could be on offer this go ‘round.
“Could be. It’s ruthless,” said Magleby. “Once we qualified, and there was a massive chance we weren’t going to qualify, funding increased. But it’s not like they have a magic pot they go get it from. They go cut it from another sport.”
Nonetheless, the men are grinding away with an eye toward the Series opener in Dubai, where they’ll be paired up with Scotland, South Africa and a team to be determined in Pool B. The women begin their Dubai preparation next week, as they brace for a group including Fiji, Canada and Ireland.