Canadian rugby sevens stalwart Kaay talks Olympics limbo, contract worries

Isaac Kaay of Kamloops: "Guys are really starting to stress out.”

Isaac Kaay seemed in disarray on Tuesday, coming to terms with news of suspended Olympic dreams and financial strife that could wipe them out altogether.

Tokyo 2020 was going to mark the end of a four-year cycle for the 26-year-old Kamloopsian, a national rugby sevens team staple who has not missed an HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series stop since his debut in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2017.

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The Olympic Summer Games have been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also eviscerated the remainder of the Rugby Sevens Series, including stops in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris, the latter two cancelled by World Rugby on March 21.

“That’s when everything started breaking down, even communication,” said Kaay, who lives and trains in Victoria, along with the rest of his teammates. “We were told we couldn’t come train any more. There was no real plan. We were told to be distant and follow precautions until further notice. There’s been a lot of sitting on the couch, trying not to get fat.”

Compounding an already problematic situation are monetary concerns for Kaay and team members, some of whom have put their professional lives on hold for eight years while pursuing Olympic caps (Canada failed to qualify for Rio 2016).

“Most guys are on senior-elite-carding contracts straight through Sport Canada,” Kaay said.

“Economically, it’s super hard on some of the guys and the way our contracts are set up, we’re not technically employees, so we don’t have the option to collect EI like a normal job. We don’t make very much to begin with.”

Kaay said many of his teammates rely on tournament appearance fees and bonuses to make ends meet.

“Having half your season thrown away puts a wrench into a lot of plans,” Kaay said.

Rugby Canada also provides funding to some players.

“They have plans to start pulling that funding because we are not training,” Kaay said, noting some teammates remain on Vancouver Island, while others have left to be with family. “We’re on contract until the end of August, but with the way things are going, the plan is to cut it. Guys are really starting to stress out.”

Kaay moved to the B.C. capital seven years ago to attend the University of Victoria and began playing rugby for the Vikes. National team brass took notice of the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Tournament Capital product, who slowly worked his way onto the Canadian sevens squad.

Kaay has travelled the world and played in 164 Rugby Sevens Series matches, racking up 23 tries, 115 points and seven yellow cards.

He has four tries and one yellow card in 28 matches this season.

Kaay said his parents have encouraged him to pursue his Olympic dream and helped him financially.

“My parents always told me you can always work later,” Kaay said. “This opportunity doesn’t come around every year, every lifetime. I owe a lot to them. A lot of guys rely on every little bit of funding. It’s not lucrative. We’re not here to get rich. We’re here to have fun and go to the Olympics.”

Kaay’s status for 2021, should the Olympics proceed, is up in the air.

“That’s a decision I’m trying to rationally make,” he said. "Things are changing. Now that we are out of contract come the end of the summer, things will change. I might have to take a look and see what they’re offering and whether it’s worth slugging it out for another year.”

For the moment, the only team fixtures are confusion and uncertainty.

“It’s tough. I had all my eggs in that basket,” Kaay said. “I thought at one point that’s all I wanted to do — Olympics was the end goal. I haven’t spoken to many guys since all this stuff happened. It’s strange. You just keep positive, hope this figures itself out and things go back to normal.”

© Kamloops This Week



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