USA Rugby confirmed today what RUGBYMag.com reported November 19, and CEO Nigel Melville outlined on the latest episode of RuggaMatrix America, that starting in January 2012, a partnership between the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and USA Rugby will allow 23 rugby sevens athletes to receive full-time training contracts at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista, Calif.
Fifteen men and eight women will receive contracts which will provide monthly stipends, meals, world-class training facilities, and high-performance support services at the OTC, marking a crucial step on rugby's journey to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In October 2009, the International Olympic Committee announced that rugby sevens would be included in the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, a massive development for the sport of rugby all over the world, but particularly in a country like the USA that has such a strong Olympic tradition.
“As we prepare as a nation for Rio 2016, making our men’s and women’s sevens teams fulltime is a crucial step for our sport,” said USA Rugby CEO, Nigel Melville.
“There are so many advantages to living and training in a high-performance environment year round - fulltime coaches, trainers, dieticians, sports psychologists, and so on – it really is necessary if the USA are to be on the rugby podium in 2016.”
The athletes will live off-site but nearby the OTC with fulltime access to training and recovery facilities, high-performance specialists, and of course, coaches.
The USA Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams will also take part in more international competitions as part of the USOC and USA Rugby partnership, allowing the USA to more regularly engage the best teams in the world.
In the 2011-2012 season, the Men’s Eagle Sevens team will play in 11 tournaments. The team has already claimed a bronze medal for Team USA at the 2011 Pan American Games in October (see RUGBYMag.com’s interview with USOC performance director Wes Barnett about that). Their remaining fixtures include the North America Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) Sevens and the nine-tournament HSBC Sevens World Series.
The NACRA Sevens, to be held in the fall of 2012, will serve as a Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 qualifier for the men's team.
The Women’s Eagle Sevens team will compete in five tournaments in the 2011-2012 Season as part of the IRB Women’s Sevens Challenge Cup and the Women’s NACRA Sevens. Because of their success at the 2009 Women’s Rugby World Cup Sevens (the USA made it to the Cup Semifinals), the team has automatically qualified for the 2013 tournament.
In the RuggaMatrix show, Melville outlined that this commitment to the women’s 7s team – the most for USA Rugby since 2009 – will require more investment by USA Rugby. So while the support from the USOC will save money on the men’s side, it will likely cost more on the women’s side.
The women’s team will also compete in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, where women’s rugby will make its Team USA debut.
“The USOC is a fantastic partner to have on our journey to 2016. They have been very supportive of our national teams and are also invested in developing American rugby athletes for 2016 and beyond,” Melville added.
The sport of rugby has grown drastically in the United States over the last six years. In 2005, USA Rugby had about 62,000 members and it recently tallied over 98,000 in 2011. The inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympics has provided momentum for the sport at all levels.
While the contracted players will enjoy the excellent OTC facilities year round, high-performance training opportunities will also be extended to USA Rugby’s All-American athletes at the high school, under-20, and college levels, an added benefit to rugby’s new status with the USOC.