Olympic champion 7s coach Gareth Baber to leave Fiji

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Olympic gold medal-winning sevens rugby coach Gareth Baber will not renew his contract with the Fiji Rugby Union when it expires in November.

The Fiji union had offered Baber a new contract through the 2024 Olympic Games but the Wales-based coach has decided to pursue other opportunities.

Fiji Rugby chief executive John O’Connor said Baber had expressed a desire to coach a professional club team in the 15-a-side game. He had chosen to end his association with Fiji “reluctantly and with great sadness,” and also considering the interests and well-being of his family.

“We totally respect the decision made by Gareth and thank him for his service to Fiji Rugby and to Fiji,” O’Connor said. “We are all proud of Gareth’s achievements, culminating in the gold medal defense at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.”

“Gareth has sought consideration to be released early from his contract by Nov. 30, 2021 and the board has accepted and endorsed his request.”

O’Connor said the position of Fiji men’s head coach will be advertised.

“While we are going through the process of advertising the position and going through the recruitment process, the Fijiana (women’s) sevens head coach Saiasi Fuli will be overseeing the (men's) Fijian sevens program and will be supported by dual Olympic gold medal-winner and captain Jerry Tuwai as the team prepare for the Dubai Sevens (Nov. 26-27),” he said.

Baber took over from England-born head coach Ben Ryan who coached the Fiji men’s team to the gold medal at the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He led the team to the World Sevens Series title in 2019 before guiding the defense of their Olympic title in Tokyo this year.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform Fiji Rugby and the people of Fiji that I will not be accepting the contract offer to coach the Fijian sevens team to the next Olympic Games,” Baber said. “I have a burning ambition to challenge my coaching again in the 15s environment and know that I must immerse myself in this if I’m truly to be measured and to progress in my coaching career."

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