Toronto Arrows co-founder Bill Webb – Interview (Part Two of Two)

Bill Webb

Bill Webb continues to reveal more intimate details about the Toronto Arrows in the second part of his interview with Last Word on Sports.

Webb is a co-founder of the Toronto Arrows. The interview originally took place on April 24.

Part two of Bill Webb Interview with Last Word on Sports

Raheem Bashir continues to focus his coverage of Major League Rugby (MLR) in North America. The 14 team, two conference championship pits the best from the United States against a team that Bill Webb was fundamental in the franchise development. He plays a major part in the ongoing management and club vision for now, and the future.

How did your team and management deal with the COVID-19 emergencies?

We dealt with it very head on. I mean, as a league we decided early last year when the season had started and we were five games in. We collectively, the owners of the league as a single entity, made the decision to stop the season early on, which was the right thing to do.

All the teams already paid the players all their outstanding contracts for that year, even though we weren’t going to play the rest of the season. We saved money as a league. We paid the players, made sure they were looked after, and then we saved on travel and hotels. We were able to cancel those things and start planning for 2021.

All the teams and the league made great efforts over the offseason. We hired more people into the Arrows staff as did other teams to get ready and to continue growing the league off the field in anticipation of the 2021 season. Then we did a lot of work in terms of player welfare and safety by planning COVID testing, and by delaying the start of this season into the month of March to give ourselves as much time to get ready.

Now touch wood, we have not had a single game cancelled. We played all our games. With all the travel and all the players who have had regular COVID testing, we have not had a single COVID case with the Arrows, our players. There will be an announcement in the next day or two that our players have all begun the vaccination process.

Many of the teams in MLR including the Toronto Arrows have begun vaccination processes. Almost all the Arrows players and staff received the COVID vaccine in the United States except a couple who did not want to receive it. We just took our turn. We are very proud that we’re playing this season and we remain very vigilant and safe.

In spite of the fact that players are beginning vaccinations, we are very careful when we play our games in Atlanta or our home games for the Arrows, that there are no fans in the stands just because we don’t have fans down there in Atlanta.

But Atlanta can have fans as they are the local team and they have fans who want to be there but they respect all of the local regulations regarding social distancing and masks. We work very closely with our hosts in Rugby ATL, to make sure that we follow the protocols in advance. We have made sure that we plan to follow all of the local state and municipal protocols regarding COVID. As a league, we have very strong protocols in place to ensure that number one, we keep our players, staff, and the fans safe.

Where do you see the Toronto Arrows & Rugby Canada 10 years from now?

Well, I see us as being an even bigger and better team than we are right now. I see rugby union being a bigger sport. North America is the big growth opportunity for rugby and there is the potential for North America to host the World Cup.

The United States is going to compete to host either the 2027 or the 2031 World Cup, which is one of the biggest sporting events in the world if successful. So that has been coordinated by USA Rugby. But I know it is common sense to acknowledge that Rugby Canada and the MLR would be very supportive of the Rugby World Cup being held in North America.

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We would love to see it have a similar impact like soccer when the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994 (the 1994 FIFA World Cup Final venue can be seen above). So, I think the impact of that is incredibly significant. We see the Arrows being a highly successful and growing professional sports and entertainment franchise.

We will continue to grow our academy system. We already have, as you are probably aware, senior academies for university-aged players, based at two locations at the University of Guelph and at Queen’s University. But those locations are going to grow. There’s been a lot of interest and support from across the country, and not just in Ontario.

We also have the Ontario Blues Juniors Academy that we have started for young men between the ages of 14 and 18, in conjunction with Rugby Ontario and that is developing. So, there is a real pathway now. You can see charts on our website (seen in Tweet above), if you have not seen them so that could be from anywhere in the country.

I mean, our goal is to be there, as long as we are the only team in Canada, which I think we will be for quite a few years. I think we will be the only Canadian team.

The league is going to grow very methodically. We are not just going to go to 20 teams, there has to be enough talent and there has to be enough capital. You want to build the product group so that we can design the team for at least a number of years.

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Our job is to grow in our mission. Our goal is to grow the game of rugby union across the country, by which I mean men’s, women’s, sevens, and fifteens. In particular, we want to grow the depth and the talent pool for the men’s game as related to our team and to continue developing those pathways. We want to work with all the provincial unions right across the country to find the best talent.

We are a large country, but we have a small population. We’ll continue to primarily grow Canadian talent. We would hope that our impact with the Toronto Arrows is helping the national team. So hopefully we will improve our national ranking for the Canadian men’s national team.

I believe that in five years, we could be in the top 15 in the world. A decade from now, I think it’s possible to maybe be in the low teens in terms of our national ranking or international ranking, if we work really intelligently and work together in Canada.

The Arrows are willing to partner and continue leading the way wherever we can in conjunction with the provinces and with the national union and have great working relationships with all those parties.

This includes the support from our fans, from universities, the schools, the clubs, and our commercial partners especially Honda, Lululemon, the Globe and Mail, TSN, our broadcast partner, and Puma.

They have been terrific. I think what really resonates with people who are new to rugby are the values of the game, which are very strong. The inclusivity of the game includes men, women, people of all sizes. There’s a place for everybody, whether that’s playing sevens, fifteens, touch flag, and mixed abilities rugby.

It is a very, very strong community. Again, we want to continue growing those partnerships and working together. This is in order to grow the game, to grow the values in the game, and to share our work together to build the resources that help grow that game”.

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High Praise for Bill Webb and the Toronto Arrows for Growing the Game in Canada

First of all, a big thanks to Bill Webb (seen holding a shirt in Tweet above) for doing this interview with Last Word on Sports. One can read part one of the interview here. Bill Webb has done a great deal for Canadian rugby union. His vision and mission for the Toronto Arrows has helped grow the game and will continue to help the Canadian men’s rugby team. It could be similar to what the Sunwolves had done to grow rugby union in Japan.

Bill Webb also talked about the challenges the Arrows faced with COVID-19 and what it is like for Toronto playing in Atlanta this year. The side are mid-season in the 20221 MLR competition, and Toronto is currently fourth in the MLR Eastern Conference.

Their next game will be on May 29 as the Arrows face the New England Free Jacks at 4:00 p.m. ET. The game will be shown in Canada on TSN.ca/TSN App. The game can also be seen on NESN and The Rugby Network.

 

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