After measles, business as usual for Marist Sevens
The measles epidemic forced preparations onto the back-burner but the Marist Sports Club is ready to host their 32nd annual Vailima International Sevens tournament.
The event was officially launched with an ‘ava ceremony and speech from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi on Friday night ahead of the tournament itself on the 14th and 15th of February.
Marist Sevens tournament director, Fata Brian Kaio, said they would normally start preparing for the tournament in November, but everything was delayed with Samoa in the midst of the measles epidemic.
Fata said sponsorship has been impacted, and he thinks measles may have made some teams from overseas reluctant to come and take part.
But he said all that is out of Marist’s control, and they just have to make plans whatever the circumstances.
“If there are no teams from overseas, that means there are more opportunities for local teams as well,” Fata said, noting that either way is a win for the tournament.
“We’ve got to balance local development and the international standard and exposure we have to provide.”
He said there will likely be seven teams from overseas coming to compete; five in the men’s division and two in the women’s division.
This year there are just 16 teams in men’s tournament, a decrease from last year.
“The concern from last year when it was 24 teams, only 16 teams made it to the second day,” Fata said.
But in the 2020 tournament everyone will have something to play for on Day Two in the Cup, Bowl, Plate and Shield competitions.
“The idea is to give everyone a lot of game time,” Fata said.
The tournament director said it was a hard decision, as having 24 sides compete meant more clubs could be involved.
“With the number of local tournaments increasing – there’s the Apia Sevens, the Samoa Rugby Union Series – we feel that there’s enough opportunities for everyone,” he said.
Ten teams will compete for the 2020 women’s title, up from seven in 2019 and four in 2018.
“We hope it will continue to increase, to give more of a platform, opportunity and exposure for women in sevens,” Fata said.
Manusina star Masuisuimatamaalii Pauaraisa’s Canterbury team are coming back to defend their title, with Auckland Samoa likely to be the other international team competing.
Fata said work has been done to upgrade the grandstand at A.C.P. Marist Stadium, with more bathrooms added for this year.
“We’d like to work more around the crowd control areas; this year there’ll be a different entrance for players and a different entrance for spectators,” he said.
Being the first international event since the measles epidemic, Fata said Marist is trying to generate tourism through the tournament at what is always a down-time of the year.
He said while it is important to grieve for what Samoa has lost, everyone needs to proceed with the same mentality:
“Despite all that has happened, we’ve gotta look ahead.
“Sevens will bring back everything to normal.”