While the Caribbean presence at this summer’s Pan Am Games will be sizeable, all of the representation with the exception of four will be in individual sports.
Trinidad & Tobago will field teams in the men’s and women’s soccer tournaments in Hamilton and the men’s field hockey championship at the University of Toronto ground in Scarborough, while Guyana is one of eight countries in the men’s rugby sevens that will take place at BMO Field on July 11 and 12.
The Guyanese secured a Pan Am Games spot with an unbeaten run in the 12-team qualifying North American Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) competition in Mexico City last December. They emerged on top in their group with impressive victories over Mexico (19-7), the Cayman Islands (38-12) and St. Vincent & the Grenadines (47-0).
In the quarter and semi-finals, Guyana brushed aside the Cayman Islands 31-15 and Trinidad & Tobago 24-7, respectively, prior to defeating Mexico 33-28 in the championship match.
Guyana has dominated the NACRA tournament in the last decade, winning seven of the last nine tournaments.
Rugby sevens, which makes its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro next year, is played over two seven-minute halves with a one-minute half-time break. It’s a variant of rugby union, which is played over two 40-minute halves with 15 players a team.
Guyana Rugby Football Union (GRFU) patron, Christopher “Kit” Nascimento, explained why Guyana has adapted so well to the sport’s shorter version.
“We are a very small rugby union with just three clubs,” he told Share. “We decided to focus, as did Fiji, on the shorter, faster and more athletic game that particularly suits our players’ physical attributes and temperament. As in much of the Caribbean, we are blessed with some very fast runners.”
Prior to coming to Toronto, Guyana will take part in the 12-team Hong Kong Sevens World Series from March 27-29 and the NACRA tournament on June 13 and 14 in North Carolina that’s a qualifier for next year’s Olympics.
“We would like more tournaments, but we simply don’t have the funding,” said Nascimento, a former West Indies Rugby Union president.
Newly-appointed technical director, Angus Thomson, is in charge of the team’s preparation. Born in Guyana to Scottish parents, he lived in Scotland before relocating to Brisbane, Australia.
Nascimento said the Guyanese players are looking forward to competing in Toronto.
In August 2012, the Guyana team spent a few days in the Greater Toronto Area on their way to Ottawa to compete in the NACRA championship, the only regional tournament they have failed to win since 2006. Guyana missed the 2013 series because of lack of funding.
“Toronto will be a great experience for them and does have the advantage of a substantial Guyanese population,” said Nascimento. “If it was cricket, you could count on the Guyanese Diaspora being there in their thousands, but rugby is still a minority, though developing sport in Guyana. Our success internationally should however attract a large number of nationals.”
The team, which will be selected by the end of June, is expected to arrive in Toronto on July 3.
“Several of our team members are playing in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Trinidad & Tobago and they will come back home to prepare for the Hong Kong Sevens and the NACRA tournament in June,” said Nascimento, a winger who represented Caribs club and Guyana in the late 1950s and 60s.
Centre Kevin McKenzie has been a Queensland resident since 2010, winger Dominique Lespierre plays for English club Huddersfield after spells in Perth and Brisbane and hooker Richard Staglon is based in the twin-island republic.
“Richard is probably our most experienced international, Kevin is one of our top impact players and Dominique is a star winger,” said Nascimento.
GRFU honorary secretary, Terrence Grant-Critchlow, said his organization is working closely with Rugby Canada to arrange practice matches for the Guyanese on July 4 and 5.
Seedings to determine the Pan Am Games draw will be completed after the Hong Kong Sevens.
Host country Canada won the inaugural Pan Am Games Men’s Sevens tournament four years ago.
“Rugby sevens is going from strength to strength and the Americas has been at the forefront of our growth story, especially in the women’s game,” said World Rugby chairman, Bernard Lapasset. “This exciting and high-quality lineup of competing nations reflects a sport that is reaching out to new nations, communities and audiences around the world.
“As excitement builds ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, we are confident that rugby sevens, with its crowd-pleasing, high-octane action and festival atmosphere, will be a hit in stadia and for television audiences enjoying the Pan American Games.”