Mike Friday, the USA Sevens coach, today warned Dan Leo not to use the sport as a political football by threatening to get it banned from the Olympic Games in his battle with World Rugby.
Friday is adamant the loss of Olympic status would have far-reaching financial effects on emerging countries and seriously hamper the growth of the sport which is using sevens to break into new markets, most notably in Asia.
Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief executive Daniel Leo has dragged sevens’ place in the Olympic Games into his battle to get World Rugby to reform their governance in the wake of the Francis Kean controversy which saw the Fiji RU chairman withdraw from his attempt to get onto the WR executive committee despite a conviction for manslaughter and evidence of homophobic comments. Leo believes asking the International Olympic Committee to take rugby out of the Games is a stick worth using.
It took rugby 90 years to get rugby back into the Games with Fiji winning men’s sevens gold at Rio in 2016 and Friday does not want any action taken that removes the status of the sport as a member of the Olympic family as that would see much-needed government funding withdrawn for many nations, including the USA.
Friday told RugbyPass: “This is a pretty juvenile strong-arm tactic to throw out there given all the work that has been done to get sevens into the Olympics. More importantly, sevens is the only authentic way we can make the sport global. Being out of the Games could have serious effects for those who come out of and we need to be careful using the sport as a political football.
“I would be unfair for USA, Canada and the non-traditional rugby nations which are the commercial markets that will assist the Pacific Islands in the development of their rugby. There should be sensible conversations being held with World Rugby rather than airing our dirty washing in public. We have battled hard to get to this position and don’t need the ladder kicked away from us particularly at this very difficult time. Next year’s Olympic Games in Japan is huge for sevens going forward.”
Leo explained his stance telling RugbyPass: “That Francis Kean was on the Council, and was nominated for ExCo, is an embarrassment for World Rugby. We must ensure that this never happens again.
“Asking the WR council themselves to make the changes that would block high-level politicians and the like from sitting on that council though is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Hence we need another governing body with interests in the game to oversee that process.”
Leo previously told the Daily Mail he has penned a draft letter to the IOC calling for a probe into Kean’s background and the unions that supported his nomination. “We are taking advice from our lawyers about a letter we are drafting,” said Leo. “I’m disappointed that World Rugby haven’t launched an open investigation into Kean and France for nominating him. If World Rugby don’t commit to governance reforms, our next letter will be to the International Olympic Committee, asking that they consider suspending rugby as an Olympic sport until they are fully compliant with IOC obligations.
“If it takes some short-term pain, i.e. being blocked from the Olympics, then so be it. But hopefully the sport can be proactive in this before that would happen. We have to push through now and make sure the lessons are learned and, most importantly, acted upon.”
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