DUBAI // Having failed to find sponsorship from traditional sources, the cash-strapped governing body for rugby in the Gulf are selling themselves to the highest bidder in cyberspace. The rights for shirt-front sponsorship of the region's representative side will be auctioned off on eBay this morning. The Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union hope to land "crucial funding to continue competing" via the auction website.
A reserve price of £25,000 (Dh143,000) has been set for the package, which will entitle the winning bidder to display its logo on the chests of the players' shirts during the forthcoming Asian Five Nations competition. However, the Arabian Gulf union are hopeful of commanding a price nearer £35,000. The Asian Five Nations, which also includes Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan, is played over four weeks from April 24 and carries with it two qualification berths for the next World Cup.
The union believe the economic slowdown has stifled attempts to secure a sponsor. Hence the desire to widen their targets. Andy Cole, the chairman of the Arabian Gulf union, said: "With the economy being as it is, we need to get our message out to the wider international rugby community. "We are offering companies the chance to align their brand with one of the biggest international rugby events.
"This is a Rugby World Cup 2011 qualifying competition. It doesn't get any bigger for rugby players or supporters in the region." The Arabian Gulf union is small compared to major rugby-playing nations like England, South Africa and New Zealand. On Saturday, England played their first Six Nations match against Wales in front of 80,000 people at Twickenham, as well as a global TV audience of millions, many of whom were able to watch the match in 3D for the first time.
That contrasts starkly with the game in the Middle East, where players juggle work commitments with training sessions and matches. The regular cross-border travel, which is required most weekends for domestic league matches, has put a strain on the finances of many clubs, to the extent that more fixtures than ever before have been forfeited this season. Clare Wilcox, the sponsorship manager for the union, said: "These finances will help grow rugby in the region. Fundamentally, the money that we get will go back into grassroots rugby.
"The [Five Nations] tournament itself has already been budgeted for, in terms of the team competing. The benefit is the sponsor gets the exposure through the Rugby World Cup qualifying campaign. "We know it is an unconventional way of trying to get sponsorship, but that is the idea. "We are still trying the conventional route. We thought there was nothing to lose from trying this." Before the Dubai Rugby Sevens in December, the home side arranged a sponsorship with MediCentres only two weeks before the event.
MediCentres provided two exercise bikes for the side to use, as well as providing medical care. firstname.lastname@example.org