As rugby sevens prepares to make its Olympic debut next week, Middle School teacher Bruce Kuklinski is preparing to make his own Olympic rugby debut.
Bruce is one of two citing commissioners from around the globe hand-picked to officiate the men’s and women’s rugby sevens matches – 68 games in total – at the Rio Olympics.
“It’s a huge honour and a huge privilege to be selected. I’m very much looking forward to it,” he says. “I was never ever going to go to the Olympics as an athlete, so this is the closest I’ll get.”
Raised in New Zealand, Bruce was an avid athlete – rugby and track, mostly – who came to Canada in the late 1980s and played rugby with the UVic Vikes before he was permanently sidelined due to multiple game-related injuries. He moved away from playing the game to coaching and refereeing, where he found a passion and a natural fit.
After reffing the provincial boys high school tournament in Victoria in 1990, he managed to quickly make a name for himself on the Canadian rugby scene. In 1995 Bruce reffed his first international competition, and continued doing so for more than a decade. In 2010, Rugby Canada invited him to take a citing commissioners course, which he accepted.
“[Citing commissioners were] relatively new at the time; people had been doing it for a few years but I had never really experienced a lot of it,” he says. A citing commissioner is an official who watches a rugby game live and has the authority to hand out red or yellow cards after a game, if the evidence supports it.
“I don’t have any influence whilst the game is being played, but if I feel that the officials involved in the game needed to have red-carded someone or ejected someone, I can do that. I have to provide video evidence, written statements and all that so all the evidence can be brought forward to say this did or didn’t happen,” Bruce says. “It’s kind of like what the NHL, the NFL and MLB do – they send things back to head office, but it’s all post-game.”
Up until now, the biggest stage Bruce has worked was last year’s Rugby World Cup in England, and last month he was in Australia citing for the England/Australia series.
“You certainly say to yourself, ‘The Olympics are just like any other game,’ but in a way there’s a feeling of extra pressure. But you’re there to do a job. Really, I don’t decide if a player gets suspended or not because the player decided that – I just act on that,” Bruce says.
The phys ed teacher travels to Brazil on August 2 and spends a very busy week citing the rugby matches. Rugby has not been an Olympic sport since 1924 (when it was 15-a-side), nor have women ever played the game at the Olympics – Bruce believes the sport will leave an indelible mark on the Games.
“I think that rugby will blow the Olympics away, and it will be one of their biggest success stories. The crowd that will attend will be diverse, there will be people from all of the participating female and male countries and they’ll be incredibly supportive of all the teams that are playing. And sevens is such an exciting sport to watch!”
And getting to watch the sport live as an Olympic official is an opportunity, he says, he isn’t taking for granted, and one he never expected to get to experience.
“Rugby’s been a huge part of my life as far back as I can remember, and I tell my students, ‘If you do love something, keep doing it.’ And if you’re fortunate, things might just happen that you never thought were possible,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had these kinds of opportunities for refereeing and seeing lots of the world. It’s kept me involved in the game of rugby at the highest level and I’m very privileged to have that opportunity.”
Watch Team Canada (women) go for gold August 6-8. Their first Olympic game starts at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 6. The men’s tournament runs August 9-11.
(photo by Kyle Slavin)