IRFU rule out Ulster players for British team

RUGBY: OLYMPIC SEVENS: ALL RUGBY players on the island of Ireland will play with an Ireland Sevens team in any future Olympic…

RUGBY: OLYMPIC SEVENS:ALL RUGBY players on the island of Ireland will play with an Ireland Sevens team in any future Olympic Games. The IRFU have said categorically all players under their auspices would play with an Ireland side and would not be part of a British team when rugby is introduced to the Olympic Games programme in Rio de Janeiro 2016.

That would rule out Ulster players opting to play for Britain, if they so wished. Speaking at the launch of the IRFU Rugby Sevens structure, IRFU director of rugby Eddie Wigglesworth made it clear any British side would comprise players from England, Scotland and Wales and that Team Britain could not cherry-pick players from Northern Ireland, if they were IRFU players.

“The understanding in relation to Team GB at the moment is that players will be selected for Team GB from the unions within their jurisdiction, which means players from Scotland, England and Wales will be representing GB. Players who play within the IRFU jurisdiction fall within the Irish Rugby Union. We do that with the agreement of the other unions,” explained Wigglesworth.

When asked if the IRFU would strongly resist any moves by Britain to entice players, Wigglesworth said they didn’t need to as the position was clearly defined. “We are not resisting anything,” he said. “We are just saying that is the de facto position. It’s not a question of flexibility or any thing like that. That’s the understanding.”

If Ireland do not qualify for the Games, which is a strong possibility as there is currently no ranked international team playing the Sevens game here and because the IRFU has somewhat ominously advised that an international Sevens program would be greatly disruptive to the 15-man game.

In addition, no qualification process for teams has been yet devised and the only definite at this point is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) must announce a qualification process two years before 2016.

“That hasn’t been discussed by the union,” explained Wigglesworth in the event of Ireland not qualifying for the Games and Britain coming looking for players.

“Theoretically, I wouldn’t have any view because it would be the view of the union which would hold sway and not my view. We haven’t even discussed that aspect.

“The only thing you need to be aware of is that the teams that play in the Olympic Games are going to be the best teams in the world playing Sevens. The fact of the matter is that to be at that level requires a very substantial period of preparation and the reality is that period of preparation would conflict unbelievably with the 15-aside program. That’s the issue. That’s the big difficulty.”

On the face of it the IRFU, starting from point zero, have an enormous task ahead, if it decides to seriously compete. They will not make a decision until 2013 on the issue of a professional Irish Sevens side and refute the suggestion that to qualify for Rio with just two or three years’ serious preparation is unrealistic despite other sports operating on four- or even six- or eight-year Olympic cycles.

“We would not accept it’s too late,” added Wigglesworth. “I would think at two years out, maybe three, it would be sufficient time to do what we want to do, to play in a participation program. I’m not saying that would guarantee you a position within the 12 at the Olympics but certainly making a decision in 2013 leaves sufficient time for us to participate.

“We are starting today and that’s the announcement of the club Sevens and provincial Sevens that will allow players to be identified, so that if we did decide to turn on the water in 2013 we have the Sevens players.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times