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Exclusive: England sevens players crowdfund to help Olympic preparations after RFU funding cut
England men and women's rugby seven players were made redundant in August
15 September 2020 • 10:59am
England men and women’s rugby sevens players are launching a crowdfunding initiative to help them in their preparation towards the Tokyo Olympics, after they were made redundant by the Rugby Football Union last month.
Unlike the majority of other Olympic sports, rugby sevens does not receive long-term funding from UK Sport. When the RFU made the decision to cut the rugby sevens programmes last month, players lost their only source of funding, causing them to seek alternative sources of revenue to aid their preparations.
Both England men and women qualified to take part in the 2020 Olympics on behalf of Team GB, with Scottish and Welsh players due to join in the build-up as they did for the 2016 Rio Games, when the men won silver and women came fourth. It was expected the bulk of both squads would be made up of English players.
Olympic silver medallist Phil Burgess told Telegraph Sport: “We are using the crowdfunding to help connect with people that support rugby and would like to help out our drive to get to the Olympics.
“If we can get the money to fund our own programme we can be in control or at least help guide our own future.”
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As well as looking to the wider public for support, the England rugby sevens sides are seeking investment from sponsors, the corporate world and high net worth individuals. Players have taken it upon themselves to launch campaigns across social media to make rugby fans aware of their plight.
It is understood to that the England rugby sevens programmes cost the RFU £2million a year to run. The governing body made the decision to cut funding as it faces projected losses of between £73m and £107m for this financial year.
Since being told at the start of August that they would be made redundant and the professional programmes would be scrapped, players have been scrambling for employment in order to support their Olympic dreams while trying to keep in competitive shape.
A large number of the women’s squad have signed with Premier15s sides in order to keep playing rugby, but it is understood clubs are willing to release players so they can take part in a truncated 2021 World Series leading up to Tokyo. These players, however, will not be paid as professionals and many will be balancing full and part-time jobs.
Of the squad of almost 20 men, just four have so far been contracted by Premiership clubs – the most high profile being World Series all-time highest try scorer Dan Norton, who signed a short-term deal with London Irish.
Ben Harris signed with Saracens on an academy deal, before scoring on his Premiership debut against Gloucester last month. Will Muir followed in the footsteps of Premiership wing Ruaridh McConnochie - who started his career in sevens - in signing for Bath. Charlton Kerr also signed for London Irish but sustained an injury, taking him out of contention to play in the Premiership.
Follow the England rugby sevens squads’ journey to Tokyo on Twitter @Engrugby7s