Bruce Kuklinski has been an international rugby referee long enough to know he didn’t expect to see himself going to the Olympics.
This week Kuklinski, 51, is one of two citing commissioners who will review video footage from every minute of the women’s rugby sevens matches as the sport makes its debut at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games. The other is longtime official Mike Rafter of England.
“I’m surprised, honoured, privileged and fortunate to get this opportunity, I never thought I’d go to the Olympics except to watch,” Kuklinski said.
From 1995 to 2007, the Saint Michaels University School athletics teacher was an International Rugby Board test referee who blew the whistle on 13 IRB World 7s series events and 11 test matches for the 15s.
In more recent years, Kuklinski has worked as a citing commissioner on the sidelines for international events including the past two Victoria International Women’s Sevens tournaments in Langford and the wildly successful Canada 7s men’s inaugural event at BC Place in the spring. In 2015, he worked the Rugby World Cup and in June of this year, he worked a three-match 15s series between England and Australia in Australia. It’s a prestigious rank in the world rugby picture.
“My role is to penalize players with yellow or red cards based on dangerous or illegal activity during the matches,” Kuklinski said. “I watch video and hand out the citations following matches.”
Three yellow cards equals a red card, which means missing the next match.
The newest infringement that officials are trying to get out of rugby is neck rolls.
“There are always dangerous things in the game that you don’t want up-and-coming players to see on TV, or they will do it too,” he said. “One of those is the neck roll, where a head is grabbed on the way into the ruck and it creates a dangerous situation where the player who is grabbed has to roll away, as they otherwise know they could get hurt very badly.”
Rugby has been eager to adopt real-time support from the sidelines. Tries, or near tries, can be reviewed on screen by a sideline commissioner. However, Kuklinski’s role is to cite post-game penalties only.
Kuklinski’s background in rugby started as a youth in New Zealand. He was drawn to the coaching of Dave Docherty at the University of Victoria in 1987, where he played scrum half and studied athletics and teaching.
“That was a great setup that really led me to refereeing. Every weekend was an all-encompassing model where you coached youth, refereed older youth and then played for your team,” Kuklinski said.
“I’m a fan of all sports, at all levels, top to bottom, so I’m very excited to go to Rio and to see the Games and the athletes,” he added. “I saw an ice hockey game at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and if the atmosphere at the women’s rugby is going to be anything like that, which I think it is, it’ll be fun.”
For the past 11 years Kuklinski has taught at the SMUS middle school and was in SMUS’ high school for 16 years before that. He is also a longtime rugby coach at the school.
“The support this school has given me has been amazing, letting me leave a few weeks early from school this year and to leave for three weeks to work at the 2014 World Cup was really great of them.”
Canada’s women’s sevens rugby team qualified for Rio and will start the tournament against Japan on Saturday, Aug. 6, at 8:30 a.m.