USA Head Coach Mike Friday and his players are having to follow stringent testing and quarantine measures in Spain to take part in the first international sevens tournament to be staged during the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic as they attempt to stay on track for Olympic Games gold in Japan in July.
Friday and his squad, which includes double World Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker, are in Spain as part of a tournament for six men’s and women’s teams to try and fil the void created by the cancellation of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series that should have been preparing the teams for the Olympic Games that have been delayed for 12 months due to COVID-19.
The Sevens series has been hit by world-wide travel restrictions and is not being staged before the Games forcing teams from around the globe to look for march practise while adhering to quarantine and testing measures. Fiji, the reigning Olympic champions, are hoping to replicate the Spanish tournament by involving Australia, New Zealand, the current Series champions, and Samoa – probably staged in Australia – but for now they are concentrating on an internal series to keep their players active before the Oceania tournament in March.
To enable the competition in Madrid to go ahead starting this weekend, all teams underwent testing and quarantine before arrival and these continue during their stay in the country. Contact tracing, daily monitoring and regular symptom checks are also mandated over two weekends of competition on February 20 to 21 and 27 to 28. The sevens is being hosted by the Federación Española de Rugby (FER) and supported by World Rugby as part of a US$4 million investment into Olympic qualified unions’ sevens programmes.
Alongside the USA are Portugal, Spain, Kenya, Argentina and France but missing are the Blitzboks, who were targeting Madrid but are unable to compete due to a ban on travel to Spain from South Africa.
The USA Men’s Sevens squad reassembled in January following a rigorous entry testing and quarantine process along with stringent protocols from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Friday said:”We are so fortunate and are like kids in a sweet shop to be able to get out of the country and go somewhere to compete a year after the last international tournament.
“We dare not believe we are going to play against other countries for the first time since Vancouver
“ Fiji can play in the Oceania tournament in March and we were invited but the costs make it too expensive – £120,000 – which if you are in the NFL then no problem, but we have limited resources and COVID makes things too expensive. We hope got to Dubai at the start of April for a similar tournament to this one in Spain for countries not under a travel ban and there plans to create competitions in the US in May before the Olympics. We could be in London at the end of May in the Series, but a final decision is yet to be made.
“Normally, we are a travelling circus on the series and we all share information because we have the same goal of playing internationally again in order to prepare for the Olympics . The things you need to get right logistically to get the guys to a tournament at the moment is a learning curve and things that normally take 30 mins take two hours. We are in a hotel with France and Argentina and the players would be mixing on the circuit, easting together, but we are all protecting each other by staying in our groups. We all want to get to Saturday and play some sevens.
“Above all else, the Dawgs are excited to be let off the leash to represent their country once again.”
The USA players have not been vaccinated and Friday believes his squad would be uncomfortable being put ahead of those who are in more vulnerable groups in US. It may become a requirement for taking part in the Olympics but at present it is not on the horizon. “Rugby players like routine and the goal posts keeps changing which is mentally fatiguing:” Friday added. “Vaccinating is something that is being talked about as we near the Olympics but there are people who need it more than us.
“We would be uneasy about being offered it at the moment and it’s not on the radar at the moment. It may rear its head in May or June.”
Monaco is preparing to host the World Rugby Sevens Repechage, the final qualification event for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, on 19-20 June, 2021. With 21 of the 24 teams already qualified for the Olympic rugby sevens competition, the remaining two women’s and one men’s spots will be determined in Monaco