Wasps and England Sevens star Celia Quansah on trying to keep her Olympic dream alive after the RFU cut the sevens programme on Zoom call
Little did rugby sevens star Celia Quansah know when she joined a Zoom call with her England team-mates that their contracts were about to be terminated and their Olympic dreams left hanging by a thread.
It was a decision forced upon a Rugby Football Union whose finances had been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic - and something had to give.
Quansah recalls: "We found out over a Zoom call. So Conor O'Shea [director of performance rugby at the RFU] was on the Zoom call with us, it was the whole programme, it was just players not staff and he broke the news.
“On the call he asked if we had any questions but what can you say? You just scrapped the programme. We didn’t have too much to say to that to be honest.”
Quansah still looks back on that bleak day in August with a lot of emotion but, as she explained in an exclusive interview with NewsChain, while the devastating blow from the RFU was a ‘shock’, she is determined to make her dream come true.
Both the men’s and women’s teams had qualified for the postponed Tokyo Olympics but as the RFU are no longer funding the teams they had to look at alternatives and have launched a crowdfunder to pay for training, playing staff and match practice.
She says she has been blown away by the public’s response to the crowdfunder.
“We've had loads of support, it’s been great actually. We started the crowdfunding a couple of weeks ago now. It’s been great, the support has been really good. We're just trying to push it a bit more on social media to just get as many people on board with it as we can because there’s still quite a few people who aren’t aware of the situation that we're in.
"If they have heard about it they may not understand exactly what has gone on. I think from my understanding a lot of people think we shouldn’t be moaning about the situation we’re in as everyone is going through tough times, but we just want to make sure people understand we have been left with nothing.
She added the Olympics has been a life-long goal of hers.
"The Olympics has always been my dream. I always thought I was going to go to the Olympics as an athlete, that's always what I wanted to do and obviously transferred over to rugby and being part of the Sevens squad meant I was able to be part of the qualifying process.
Quansah was named as part of Team GB’s extended squad for the Olympics in February before it was postponed and so will have to fight for her spot in the final Games team line-up by showing her rugby skills for new club Wasps in the Premier 15s.
She credits the move to the club to Wasps director of women’s rugby Giselle Mather who has said she will do anything to aid her route to Tokyo.
“Before I made a decision on which club I wanted to go to I had spoken to coaches and Giselle was so supportive of that. I think she's really good at that, she’s really good at understanding you as a player but as a person as well. What are your goals and what you want to achieve. I made it clear from the start that my goal is to go to the Olympics next year,” she said.
“There are other things I want to achieve within 15s, but that is the end goal for next year at least so she’s been really supportive of that. She’s said if there’s anything we’re not doing that you need to do more of, anything in particular, just let us know.
"She’s hopefully going to work closely with us. There’s five of us so that works quite well, to get us in the best shape leading to the Olympics. So yeah she’s been great.”
Quansah is joined at Wasps by four fellow England Sevens players including her partner Meg Jones.
She says she and Jones have struck the perfect balance between work and home life.
“Yeah we love it to be fair. We met through the Sevens programme so it works for us, it probably wouldn't work for everyone being comfortable with each other all the time.
“Like literally working together, then going home and doing everything else together. But for us it is fine. I think we've just got a good balance. We know when to be professional and when we can have a laugh. It works really well for us but I guess it's not for everyone!”
Quansah and all the other England Sevens stars have had to look for jobs after the programme was cut and they will have to arrange anything alongside playing in the Premier 15s league as it is not professional.
She said: "It’s a difficult one, the athletes before us that’s what they had to do and they worked so hard to put us in the position that we were in so that we could be full-time professionals. That’s what we have always wanted to do.
"Now it's hard, it’s really hard because we want to train as much as we can and be a full-time athlete as much as we can but at the end of the day we've got to live, we've got to have a roof over our head and we've got to eat so it’s a hard situation.
“We have to go out and work and if that means we have to miss a session, then we miss a session but unfortunately that's the sacrifices that we have to make now which is a massive shame. It was all going so well and the programme I believe was really thriving with the men and the women on board together as well so it is going to be hard. I think we'll make it work but it's very different.”
Quansah has already found work.
"I'm doing a bit of support work for a girl with special needs at the moment, that's something I have done in the past so I have that a couple of days a week now which I'm really enjoying.
"I'm also completing my personal training qualification. I'm hoping to do that alongside playing which will hopefully as well be quite flexible around my training hours which is obviously important for me at the moment.
"So that’s what I’m focusing on, just getting that business up and running and I also do some illustrations. So it's all a bit here and there but just getting a bit of money in so I can keep training as full-time as I can.”