When a Have-Not Starts Having… What We Can Learn

Only Two Years Old, HSBC Canada Sevens Puts Wind in Rugby Canada’s Sails Thanks to Courage & Humility  

Bill Cooper
Managing Director, TTG Partnerships
CEO, HSBC Canada Sevens

I have spent much of the last few months perched on others’ shoulders and it has been, quite frankly, hard this time to come down to the ground.

Which is not to say that I am not heavily reliant on the shoulders of others for my daily life, but on occasions when one is delivering on a major event or project, the elevation gain (and subsequent descent) is more pronounced!

This most recent journey was the staging of the 2017 HSBC Canada Sevens here in Vancouver in which we again experienced a wonderful marriage of world-class athletic performance and an unparalleled embrace by fans both inside and outside of the stadium. The metrics by which we were measuring success were so far surpassed that they became a blip in our collective rear-view mirrors, leaving the project team energized about the future.

And then with the home fires burning brightly, our Canadian men’s and women’s Sevens teams proceeded to pack their bags and head off to subsequent stops on their respective World Rugby Sevens Series. The men came home from Singapore with their first gold medal ever on the Series, culminating an ascendant form they have shown across the last six stops this year. Meanwhile the women came home from Japan with a silver medal and only two points adrift of second place in the World Standings for the season. And so the fires find themselves still further stoked.

It is, therefore, fair to say that the HSBC Canada Sevens finds itself in good shape and the shoulders upon which I and others will stand in future years are stronger and more stable than ever.

So, what can Canadian amateur sport learn from the success of HSBC Canada Sevens?

This is a vital question to scrutinize because more such success would have a tremendously beneficial impact on amateur sport in Canada – both commercially and otherwise.

The key is in embracing courage and humility. And this has been shown in myriad of ways:

Rugby Canada – The journey began with the courage to bid for the event coupled with the humility to seek support from specialists both within and outside the Rugby and sport community. Since then they have continuously strived to rise to the event’s full potential while avoiding the pitfall of that potential being singularly defined by the assumed and traditional limits of what a sporting event can deliver against. Such direction requires continuous courage and humility.

The Event – Organizers embarked on a courageous vision that the tournament could be, from the outset, a stand-out event on the ten-stop series, and that ultimately it could rise to number one in the hearts of both players and fans. This is by no means a humble vision given the remarkable 40+ year history that the Hong Kong Sevens has shown the sporting and festival world, not to mention several of the other historic stops on the series. But without the courage to strive towards a lofty vision, complacency is bred. And so, to the best of our ability, we are attempting to channel humility as our vehicle towards a courageous vision. Because humility breeds creativity and innovation in its ability to drive a continuous willingness to listen, review and adapt.

The Men’s Team – In the case of the Canadian Men’s Sevens team, they have spent many years as one of the core 15 teams on the World Series before the inaugural HSBC Canada Sevens in 2016. And while the team had previously experienced strong singular performances (such as their gold at the 2015 PanAm Games), and seasons in which they had cracked the top six, their performance trend in the 2015/16 season was not one they were happy with. Reversing such a trend in the face of continuously increasing competition on the World Series would take courage and the humility to adapt. In late 2016, the team changed its coach, adapted to a rotating captaincy, channeled the home soil love they felt in BC Place in March 2016, and embraced the courage required to take to the field with confidence despite a sinking ranking. As of April 2017, they have again cracked the top seven of the World Series rankings after their win in Singapore and they are in ascendant form.

The Women’s Team – In the case of the Canadian Women’s Sevens team, they have found a way to enjoy sustained success. Not only have they earned highlights such as gold at the 2015 PanAm Games and Bronze at the Rio Olympic Games, but they have systematically remained at the top of the class in World Rugby Sevens for pool matches and big matches alike. That sustained success requires tremendous courage because moments of hesitation or doubt create dropped balls, missed chances and lost games. And sustaining the success requires humility because the moment presumption or arrogance seeps in and diminishes the respect for opponents, the chance for success correspondingly decreases.

There are, of course, a wide range of additional environmental and circumstantial factors that need to be considered when contemplating whether the success we are seeing with the HSBC Canada Sevens can be mimicked or transposed onto other amateur sports in Canada. To start with, we were bidding on an event format that was proven in other markets, and we benefited from both our men’s and women’s teams having a successfully proven track record on their respective series. So the table was certainly well set.

But embarking on the journey with a suitcase full of courage and humility was certainly key to optimizing the opportunity and that is a lesson worth remembering for the broader amateur sport sector in Canada.