Jamaica Women’s Sevens head coach Stephen Lewis’ plan to lead his team to Olympic qualification has become more complicated and difficult after World Rugby announced there would be no direct qualifier from the Rugby Americas North (RAN) region.
Normally, the winners of the RAN Sevens tournament in the Cayman Islands, like other regions, will secure automatic qualification, with the runner-ups playing in the repêchage play-offs.
However, World Rugby has decided to remove the automatic qualifying spot in the RAN Sevens because the top two team in the region – USA and Canda – have already secured Olympic qualification via the HSBC World Sevens Series. The top two teams in the RAN Sevens will now compete in the repechage, from where there are now two Olympic spots for grabs instead of one.
Speaking to the Jamaica Gleaner, an outraged Lewis called the decision “a travesty and disgrace” and said it’s unfair to create and enforce new rules during the current campaign.
“I think it’s a travesty. It’s a disgrace. It was not an [International] Olympic [Committee] decision but a World Rugby decision,” a disgruntled Lewis fumed. “I think it’s unfair to change the qualification rules after the start of the competitive cycle.”
Lewis’ anger was also shared by the chairman of the Jamaica Rugby Football Union, Jerry Benzwick, who likened World Rugby’s decision to changing a goal post in the middle of the match.
“The rationale for it is unfair, if you ask me,” Benzwick said. “This is the Olympics we’re talking about. Once you’ve qualified through the correct process, then you deserve the chance to go.”
Benzwick also believes the decision is hypocritical as another two teams from the same region, Oceania, (Australia and New Zealand) have also secured Olympic qualification from the world series and yet the region still retains their Olympic qualification spot.
“It feels like they are saying, ‘You’re a little child, so you should stay in your corner and play with your toys.’ I don’t like it,” Benzwick said. “They’re potentially killing the best opportunity for the region to explode with rugby.”
Captain of the Lady Crocs Sasha-Gaye Green also shared her disappointment at World Rugby’s decision to remove the region’s Olympic qualifying spot but sees the situation as an opportunity for the team to showcase their quality of rugby.
“I’m very disappointed with that, because they think that we’re not ready for the big scene,” Green said. “But we’ll use that as a push for us to show them what they should think of our quality of rugby.”