The Ariel Re Bermuda International Sevens kicks off at the North Field this evening, with Bermuda Sevens coach Tom Healy saying the event is a big part of the transition from rugby being an expatriate sport to a Bermudian sport.
A host of American men’s and women’s college teams are on island to take on the best Bermuda has to offer, and as well as promising to be a fun weekend of sport and entertainment for the family, it offers potential scholarship opportunities for young Bermudian players.
“It’s important to know that, historically, rugby was an expat sport,” Healy said. “That’s no longer true. Rugby is a Bermudian sport. We’ve been successful in integrating it into the schools and you see on Thursdays when the Beyond Rugby guys are playing that it’s a Bermudian sport and that’s hugely important.”
Healy said the tournament helps provide a pipeline to the national teams that was not there before.
“This is the third year of the tournament,” he said. “It’s come around because of a lack of international rugby on the island. All our players have to continuously go overseas to play rugby and get the exposure and opportunities that rugby can provide.
“Furthermore, because of the lack of corporate sponsorship for the rugby team, players have to dig into their own pockets to finance their own travel and accommodation overseas.
“Unfortunately, that resulted in younger players being unable to get that financial support to participate in the national team.
“There were a group of players who were always omitted because of means beyond their control. So by bringing the tournament to Bermuda, it facilitated these guys to actually get some game time and with it the added benefit of potentially getting viewed by US college coaches with sports scholarships up for grabs for our higher performing athletes. That was the reason for it three years ago and it remains the case today.
“Ariel Re, who support our middle school league, saw this as the next step in their community support, and by sponsoring the tournament, almost closing the loop in regards to helping the kids domestically, but giving them a real opportunity.
“And they’re probably the only organisation out there who have a realistic outcome for the kids they support, so it’s not just a case of throwing cash at it and getting their brand out there it’s a real case of providing a viable option for these kids to get picked up for scholarships.
“What we’re seeing in senior rugby is a lack of pipeline into the senior side and rugby has been on the decline in the past few years, certainly standard-wise.
“This is about rebuilding that pipeline, so we get more Bermudians representing their country and less reliant on the transient expat community. It is part of a long-term strategic plan, and there are a number of satellite projects taking place. But ultimately, they all come together with the long-term view of promoting rugby and maintaining its successful history [here].”
Yelena Packwood, a marketing and communications specialist for Argo Group — Ariel Re’s parent company — said that the community aspect was a big part of them wanting to get involved after they linked up with the Beyond Rugby youth programme.
“There was real appreciation for the community-building aspect of Beyond Rugby and the influence that has been expanded throughout the event,” Packwood said. “It’s an opportunity to build the community through sport and that’s one of the reasons why Ariel Re are involved.
“This year we are hosting a family day. We have activities for children and refreshments, so it’s a real family day and it’s a real activity day for people to come out and get acquainted with rugby and spend some time with their kids.”
Healy added: “We’ll have the Six Nations up there as well, so we’re asking people to come up, watch the Six Nations under the tent, because all proceeds from the bar will go towards supporting the tournament. The family day is completely free.”
Healy also said that defending champions Kutztown University will be there, as well as other prestigious American college teams.
“Some of the more prominent teams will be Notre Dame coming here for the first time. We have American International coming over with two women’s teams. Ithaca have three teams. Returning teams are Saint Joseph’s, who were third last year, Stony Brook, another successful team from the past, and Kutztown, who will be among the favourites.
“The top teams are back, which is great, and it attracts more interest from other teams. We have added a ladies division, so are broadening the scope of the tournament by adding a Bermuda ladies team as well. So we’ll have four Bermuda High School teams, one ladies’ team and one local men’s team.
“The tournament will have about 230 athletes coming over. Add on coaching and friends and family and there’s well in excess of 350 tourists coming to the island.”
Darren Woods, of Beyond Rugby, said that the tournament is the ideal chance for players to see what rugby is all about, especially in terms of scholarship opportunities.
“Kids in our programme, their parents don’t often have the opportunity to see colleges playing rugby at a high level, so they don’t see rugby as viable,” Woods said. “They don’t always see rugby as an avenue into university for their future, so this tournament really helps them to see what a real rugby tournament looks like and gives them the potential to see that college rugby and a scholarship is achievable for them.”
The tournament starts today at 4pm and carries on tomorrow, starting at noon.