The Rugby Football Union has opted to cut funding for their Sevens teams due to the financial impact of Covid-19, leaving its stars scrambling for new employment.
The move casts doubt on Team GB Sevens’ participation at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. The RFU has approached UK Sport for funding and are exploring the option for a Team GB Sevens team.
One player who has been forced to redirect her career path is Yorkshire’s Jodie Ounsley.
The Dewsbury-born player has opted to return to the 15-a-side game, signing a contract with Sale Sharks Women, who are set to join the Tyrrells Premier 15s this season.
The 19-year-old is not the first, and is unlikely to be the last, Sevens star who has agreed a contract with a rugby union club.
Most notably, record England Sevens try-scorer Dan Norton joined London Irish earlier this week and was the second Sevens player to do so after Charlton Kerr agreed a deal at the club last month.
Meanwhile, Ounsley is no stranger to the 15-a-side game.
She started playing rugby at Sandal RUFC in Wakefield and has represented Yorkshire and England at youth level.
The lightning-quick player, who was born profoundly deaf, made her World Sevens Series debut in Glendale, Colorado, last October and scored her first try in Cape Town in December.
However, the coronavirus pandemic which has gripped the globe has forced Ounsley to move in a new direction.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a year,” Ounsley told The Yorkshire Post.
“Last year I became a full-time contracted player with England Sevens, I moved to London to be based at England rugby’s training base, living and training with some amazing players.
“I played in the HSBC World Sevens series and travelled all over the world for tournaments.
“I was selected for Great Britain’s Olympic extended training squad and my aim was to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Although it was understandable, it was still a blow when I discovered the Olympics were to be cancelled due to Covid-19.
“It has been my lifetime ambition to compete at the Olympics.
“I pushed myself to stay positive, as I now had an extra 12 months of preparation for Tokyo.
“We then received another big setback as England Rugby announced from the end of August they were finishing the Sevens program for the men and women’s squads.
“It has left players looking for other work instead of preparing for the Olympics.”
Ounsley is aiming to launch a sports clothing range that will help promote equality within sport and raise deaf awareness.
Her new venture will support The Elizabeth Foundation, which is a pre-school that supports deaf children and their families. It is an organisation which helped Ounsley as a child and she is now looking to give something back.
“This experience has forced me to re-assess my future and I have a couple of business plans developing,” she said.
“I am preparing to launch a sports leisure clothing range, this is an ethical range aimed at promoting equality and raising awareness of issues close to my heart – one being deaf awareness.
“The business will support a deaf charity called The Elizabeth Foundation which is a pre-school that supports deaf children and their families.”
With the scrapping of the Sevens programme, Ounsley’s participation at next summer’s Olympics is uncertain.
However, she is still determined to achieve her ambition of competing in the Olympics with Sevens contracts up for renewal in January and at only 19 years of age, time is still on her side.
Ounsley added: “I have lots of new challenges to focus on, however, I’ve still not given up on my dream of being an Olympian, fingers crossed it will happen eventually.”
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