Last week’s announcement that the Olympics have been delayed a year has caused the sevens coach an unexpected headache, and the problem extends to his squad as a number of players had planned to take up lucrative deals in 15s rugby – most notably in America’s enlarged Major League Rugby – after the Olympic Games.
The lure of Olympic gold will now force these players to look again at those club contracts and decide if they want to remain part of the Fijian sevens squad as it attempts to repeat the glory it won at the 2016 Games in Rio.
“There are three or four sevens players who have had interest from overseas and if someone has signed a contract and the FRU have agreed, then that would potentially stay in place which makes it difficult,” Baber told RugbyPass.
“The same goes for staff as well and it all needs to be pulled together and mapped out. There is the possibility that players around the world will be moving on to contracts post the Olympic dates that were in place – and that’s not just in Fiji. There are big decisions to be made.”
Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O’Connor has confirmed that Welshman Baber’s four-year deal will run out in December as it was drawn up to include the 2020 Tokyo Games and the completion of this year’s HSBC Sevens Series.
“Baber’s four-year term comes to an end this year and not after the Olympic Games in Tokyo. He had to fill big shoes in 2016 after Ben Ryan left and since then he has been the face of the Fiji sevens team’s performance at the HSBC Sevens Series.
“When the date comes the board will then decide on the contract terms. We will then review his performance before we can make any decisions whether to keep him or not.”
Baber will come out of his 14-day self-isolation on Wednesday which was triggered by travelling to North America for the Los Angeles and Vancouver legs of the sevens series, and sorting out a new contract is top of a long list of “must-dos” he faces with every major sevens nation now facing a hectic schedule of 15 tournaments in just eleven months.
While the Olympic Games have been postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the postponed sevens series events in Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Paris are scheduled to be played before the end of this year.
Since becoming head coach, Baber has won eleven tournaments – beating Ryan’s record of nine. He said: “Having conversations like this are not ones you want to do on the phone and the pandemic has had a huge impact on programmes all around the world in terms of Olympic funding now that the everything is put back by a year.
“I have worked for four years to get to this point and you want to be part of an Olympic Games tournament. There are a lot of discussions that need to take place about funding and contracts that none of us thought we were going to have.
“The FRU chief executive is busy talking to sponsors and stakeholders to look at funding and what is needed to run all of the teams. The meetings I will be having will be to find out how we move forward. You will now be planning to play sevens from September to July and I have huge concerns about the number of tournaments that will be played over that period.”