The following is a guest post by Cian Aherne.
2013 marks the first year that Ireland have not entered a men’s 7s rugby team in the 7s World Cup. We knew this would be the case over a year ago but seeing the World Cup kick off in Moscow this weekend brings it back into focus again. Looking through the countries in the IRB World Rankings, I can’t actually find another rugby nation that does not have a men’s 7s team in development – certainly none in the top 20 considering Italy have now started a 7s programme.
What is the IRFU’s current stance on Irish men’s 7s rugby? There are no plans in place. Club 7s tournaments have begun and there are 7s tournaments in development on the ground in Ireland (such as the underage Umbrella 7s, the IRFU national 7s fixture list and the World Mini Games) but there are no plans at all to have a national team or to attempt to enter the Olympics in 2016. As the governing body of the sport in Ireland, the IRFU are the only entity eligible to enter international IRB or IOC competitive programmes; their permission/consent is required in order for a national team to enter.
Considering the lack of a plan from the IRFU and the likelihood that this is down to a shortage of available funding, a group of club rugby players have put forward a proposal to the IRFU for an independently-funded team to compete internationally. This has been made on the back of publicised support from the likes of high profile rugby professionals such as Matt Williams, Doug Howlett, Mike Ruddock, Tony Ward and Alan Quinlan.
One would think that the IRFU could hardly refuse consent for such a proposal considering it would not cost them anything and would be further boosting their reputation worldwide, but they have refused such independent proposals for European and World Student Championship teams in the past. The proposal is currently awaiting a response.
It is difficult to come up with reasons for the refusal of this proposal, and such a denial could be seen as taking away Irish athletes’ rights to Olympic participation. If an Irish athlete is to participate in the Olympics, they need to reach a certain standard. Imagine the Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI) point-blank refusing to permit a track athlete from competing if they made that standard… Worse, imagine the AAI actually refusing to let that athlete even try and make the standard in the first place!
The following are the Olympic Rugby 7s qualification standards and the path Ireland would need to take in order to attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2016:
- The top four teams in the IRB World 7s Series 2014/15 automatically qualify.
- The top one team in a continental tournament in each continent qualify.
- A repechage tournament will be played for the remaining teams where the top one/two teams qualify for the Olympics depending on whether or not Brazil are given an automatic place.
Ireland’s Potential Route:
- Rank in the top two nations in Europe who do not compete in the World 7s Series in the 2013/14 season, then…
- Finish in the top 4 at the Hong Kong-based World Series Pre-Qualifier tournament on 28th-30th March 2014, then…
- Finish as one of the top three teams at the London-based World Series Core Team Qualifier tournament on 1oth-11th May 2014, then…
- Finish in the top four in the Sevens World Series in the 2014/15 season.
- If unsuccessful, possible to qualify as the top one from the remaining European nations.
- If unsuccessful, possible to qualify as the top one/two from the remaining repechage tournament.
While success in attempting such a route may seem unlikely at this stage, Ireland actually have a reasonable history in the 7s game. For instance, when Ireland have put a team together for 7s World Cups, they have always qualified and finished inside the top 20 ranked nations. They were even beaten semi-finalists in 1993. Furthermore, the Irish 7s team is the only national team ever to beat New Zealand.
Irish club side, The Moosa Daly Wild Geese (Twitter & Facebook), have now won the Dubai Club 7s Championship, the Kinsale 7s and several other Irish tournaments with little financial backing. The Wild Geese offer a perfect template for identifying Irish club players from all divisions who have the potential to excel at 7s if given the opportunity. High-standard club players in Ireland with international, professional and 7s experience (such as Danny Riordan, Ciaran Ruddock and Darragh Fanning) are in their rugby prime at present and, with no professional rugby career ensuing, could be a perfect fit to be the backbone of an international team.
If in reading this, you’re somehow still not convinced that Irish players should at least be given consent to try and compete for the Olympic Games, consider the Olympic creed: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Surely there could not be a more fitting creed for the style and attitude of Irish rugby players.
If any readers are involved with the IRFU, IRB, FIRA or IOC and are interested in the proposal mentioned above, would like to read it, or put a national team through to the European circuit, please contact Cian Aherne.
The very best of luck to the Irish women’s 7s team competing in Moscow this weekend. They have performed incredibly well to qualify and are a perfect example of the potential for 7s rugby in Ireland. Follow 7s Rugby Ireland for the latest updates on 7s rugby in Ireland.