Rugby will not be a featured sport at the Canada Summer Games in 2013 in Quebec. The decision was made after an extensive review of sports competing for spots at the quadrennial event held in various Canadian communities. Rugby is still part of the next games, being held in Prince Edward Island in 2009.
Pearse Higgins, the Rugby Canada board member who has worked extensively on the application for the 2009 and 2013 games, says rugby’s failure to qualify was a combination of factors including provincial rankings of rugby (where each provincial sports body ranked the sport overall), numbers of participants, and Canada’s recent performances on the international stage including the recent Rugby World Cup where Canada lost three matches and had one draw.
The Niagara Peninsula is a hotbed for rugby and several players from the Hamilton area have represented Canada at international competitions.
“For the 2009 Canada Summer Games there were 12 sports competing for the available spots and we were selected by a close margin over men’s softball and golf, both of the losing sports appealed the decision and we were involved in the appeal process for the 2009 games,” explained Higgins. “As an affected sport had the appeal been upheld, we would have been out for 2009.
“Men’s softball took their appeal to the final stage and it was Dick Pound who was charged with making the final decision and he decided that the Canada Summer Games Council had followed all due process and that the decision was based on merit to select rugby over men’s softball for the 2009 games.
“For the 2013 Canada Summer Games there were 22 sports competing for the available spots following the selection of the core sports, there were 10 more sports to be selected and that included the selection of a sport by the host province, Quebec,” said Higgins.
A number of criteria are used in formulating the decision, with the sports provincial ranking accounting for a maximum of 33.5 per cent.
The next 33.5 per cent was drawn based on a sport funding accountability rating, which looks at the results of high performance at international levels, and how that financial outlay equates on the international stage. Men’s rugby ranked 17th among all sports with a 10.2% (of a possible 33.5% score), while women’s rugby was in 12th spot and an 17.5% rating.
“For 2009 we received approx 23% for both men and Women. For 2013 this had a major impact on our final ranking and is based, not on International Ranking, but on results,” said Higgins.
Higgins points out that unlike previous years when rugby seemed to easily qualify, the lack of a regular competition that counted towards international results has hurt the sport on the 2013 decision making process.
“We used to play in the PARA tournament, the Toshiba Cup and the Pacific Rim, all of which had legitimate test results for Canada. With the Churchill Cup only wielding one victory per tournament and our recent Rugby World Cup performance ,the impact on our application was less than positive,” said Higgins.
One of the other aspects of concern for the Canada Summer Games organizers dealt with the size of team contingents. With as many as 28 players and coaches on each Summer games provincial rugby squad, rugby accounted for one of the largest groups of participants at the games.
“When reviewing the total numbers for the 2013 games, the final sport selected can have no more than 12 members if only one gender is selected by the sport,” revealed Higgins. “If both genders have applied then each can have no more than six members. The final two sports selected and offered to (Quebec) to select one Sport, each have six team members for each gender.”
Following a review of the Canada Summer Games sports selection Rugby Canada had the option to appeal the exclusion of rugby. In order to have a successful appeal there would have grounds for appeal and substantial merit.
“A conference call was held with six provinces attending prior to the Christmas holidays, and after a full discussion and review it was unanimously agreed that we would not pursue an appeal,” said Higgins.
“The next cycle for the 2017 games starts in five years, and the real work starts now to get each province’s development model fine tuned and the growth of the sport has to become a priority in all regions,” Higgins continued. “Each province should discuss with their provincial sports body the rankings of rugby compared to other funded sports so that going forward the status of rugby can improve.”
An idea to have Sevens replace fifteen-a-side rugby was floated by the provinces, but as Higgins explains, the lack of a national championship structure for sevens would likely preclude such a move, unless Sevens became an Olympic sport. Commonwealth Games sports do not influence Canada Summer Games participation to the same level as being an Olympic sport.
“Sevens was not an option this time and we would have to discuss fully with Canada Summer Games the guidelines if we were to consider Sevens to replace fifteens in the future,” said Higgins. “If Sevens were to become an Olympic Sport, it would be a whole new scenario.”