Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why the Women's Eagles Aren't Playing at USA Sevens and Why It's a Damn Dirty Shame

In response to my post about the gender gap in rugby 7s where I lamented the fact that the USA Women will not be at the LVI tournament this year, quite a few people tweeted me this article from Rugby Magazine. It is a shame the Eagles won't be there not only to display their athleticism but also for the missed fan interaction, marketing opportunities, PR, and the chance to work with local rugby programs and give back to the game as the attention to Rugby 7s in Las Vegas is far greater than that of the Houston iRB World Series stop (which had to take some desperate steps with discount coupon websites to try and fill seats) or Atlanta (which has gone pretty under promoted this year in a very minor college stadium).

With a new contracted squad of 18 players and several more Eagles hopefuls in the pipelines (plus recent alums whose contracts have not been renewed in the past year) the Stars and Stripes teams certainly could have lived on. The player pool is there though rumor had it that the current Eagles team didn't *want* to go to Las Vegas.

Hopefully some of the women still make the trip to be the face of the #tryonrugby and #workforit campaigns. Otherwise this could be a slippery slope validating the argument that no one cares about women's 7s/women's sports, leading to why even bother investing in/promoting the game, to why bother hosting in the US, to why pay these players to train for only a few tournaments a year and on and on ad nasueum.

If no one knows about the game then how can they go and see it? Why would the general population pay money to fill a stadium? Vegas offers the clear chance to attract and motivate the fan base with sell out crowds in attendance - all of those paying CIPP dues dreaming of making the Eagles/Olympics/World Cup and the greater US population that still doesn't know (or only is vaguely aware of rugby through its stereotyped drinking culture) that women's rugby exists. Given that we have such a high performing women's 7s program with intelligent athletes with unique backstories, shouldn't we get to know and see them play more? And how will the 6 players not selected for tours, especially the crossover athletes that earned contracts, develop their on-field vision, tactics, recognition,  and decision making skills unless they play in real games against unpredictable competition?

Canada sent solid sides to the World University Games where they placed 3rd, to the NACRA championships where they outscored opponents 273-0 on their way to the title, winning again at Tobago 7s (while a development team, the roster included captain and perennial World Player of the Year contender Jen Kish), and are sending a team to Las Vegas.  Our women participated only in the World University Games with little press/fanfare and disappointing results -  according to the team's facebook page it looks like they went 1-3 beating Italy while falling to Brazil, China, Great Britain in pool play. Scouring the WUG website shows we then lost to Japan 10-5 in the 9th/10th place match. Game reports, or even a summary article about the event, are absent from the USA Rugby website. USA sent the Naval Academy team along with 3 women from other programs which suggests a lack of organization and consideration in building a women's collegiate 7s program where the best athletes have a chance to compete for a spot.

Further, Canada currently sits in 4th place to the USA's 7th place in current iRB standings. Canada's 2nd place finish at the World Cup and 3rd place WSWS finish last year both place higher than the USA side. It is a fairly safe hypothesis that the fact that they play more rugby is the driving factor in their success. As they develop their players, especially with U-18 and U-20 players getting opportunities to play in the smaller developmental tournaments, their program will only continue to thrive. Plus the recent infusion of money into the rugby 7s program, bringing the women's teams budget to a total of 1.7 million CAD, via the Own the Podium initiative means that USA Rugby has a lot of catching up to do.

A final note - Given that the men's Elite Cup has imploded due to clashes of men's club egos and the creation of the Pacific Rugby Premiership, couldn't the 5 figure amount of money allocated for it be assigned to the women's 7s team?

Suggitt Explains USA Women Absence in Vegas
Written by Alex Goff    Thursday, 09 January 2014 15:07 
Sevens - USA Sevens Women

The USA women's 7s program will not send a team to the Las Vegas Invitational Jan 23-26.

USA White in action in 2013. Ian Muir photo.
            USA White in action in 2013. Ian Muir photo.
This decision ends a run that started in 2004, when the USA 7s was in Carson, Calif. Every year, there has been a women's 7s game at the stadium during the USA 7s - sometimes an exhibition, but usually the championship game of the Women's Elite 7s at the LVI.

Last year, for the first time ever, no USA women's team played in the stadium, as the Maple Leafs I and Maples Leafs II made the final. Neither the USA or Canada are really allowed to send a full national team to the LVI, and so send teams called the Maple Leafs, the Stars and the Stripes, or USA White and USA Blue, to compete.

This year, though, there will be no USA White or USA Blue. USA Head Coach Ric Suggitt said the decision was down to money and timing."We didn't have the budget for it," said Suggitt. "We want to go. But it's not so simple as just getting on a bus out to Vegas. It does cost money, and we don't have a host union paying for us. There's only so much money to go around."

Suggitt also said that with the Houston 7s in mid-February, the timing was bad.

"It doesn't work for our periodization," he said. "To play and then train and play again three weeks later doesn't really work for us."

In fact, Canada made the same decision, except they are sending a young Maple Leafs development team to take on the likes of Japan and Mexico. Suggitt said he'd love to do that, but wasn't able to this time.

"What we do have is some development teams going there outside of the USA team, and that's going to be good for the program," said Suggitt. Atlantis and the Stars are giving up-and-comers exposure against teams from Canada, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, and France.

But it does seem a shame for USA fans that they won't see their women's national team, or close to it, play in Las Vegas, and it's a shame those players won't get a chance to play in front of a big crowd in the stadium. The USA 7s and the LVI have always given high-profile playing opportunities to the USA women's teams. When it doesn't happen this time, it's because USA Rugby opted not to go.

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