DUBAI // It is probably the only event in the country where cavegirls sit alongside comic-book heroes and fluffy animals, while being serenaded by African drums. Fancy-dressed fans were out in force yesterday as more than 30,000 spectators joined in the carnival atmosphere at the Dubai Rugby Sevens. The tournament, celebrating its 40th anniversary, is bigger than ever. This year 160 teams are taking part, including women's, veterans', school and invitational teams, alongside the 16 international sides.
While dedicated fans may scrutinise every match and cheer every try, most spectators are just relaxing and enjoying the entertainment. Ahmed Ali, 25, from England, said that the mixture of competition, colour and camaraderie made the contest a unique sporting event. "I've been to tournaments across the world but this is the ultimate," he said. "There is a great atmosphere and the weather is amazing. There is a lot of joking and banter between supporters of different countries, and all the fancy dress costumes and musical instruments make it great fun."
While the crunching tackles and dazzling runs were testament to how seriously the games were being taken on the pitch, the attitude of some of the fans off it was more jovial. Loi Masova, 39, a Fijian resident of Al Ain, said it was the mix of cultures that made the Sevens so special. "Dubai is the best possible venue to host an event like this because it is a multicultural city and all teams are assured of support, and this is the secret of the electric atmosphere.
"Every year the Fijian community across the Gulf meets up with family and friends to catch up and cheer on our team. We bring our families, have a picnic and enjoy ourselves." As the day unfolded, the stands filled up and fans found their voice. None was more vocal than the Kenyans, who formed into a band of musicians and dancers and led a procession around the ground that gained more recruits with every lap.
One of the dancers, Boaz Oyamo, 26, visiting from Kenya, said that if the fans had fun and made the loudest noise, it would help their team to victory. "We love to have fun and we always give our maximum to cheer on the team. The Sevens is just fantastic as it brings different people together to learn about different cultures." Over the decades, the Dubai Sevens has grown from a contest for a small group of expatriates, playing on sand, to a high-profile, international event in a purpose-built 50,000-capacity stadium.
With rugby sevens recently being designated Olympic status, and with the game extending its global reach, the competition has reached a new level of intensity. After a reorganisation of rugby in the region, fans are likely to see the UAE compete as a national team within the next few years, rather than watch an Arabian Gulf team. Of the premier venues on the sevens circuit, Dubai has the largest number of social teams participating, and the tournament here has always been more of a community event than elsewhere.
This has made it a popular family day out as there is always a local team to cheer, whether it be the Arabian Gulf side or a team from a local school or club. After the final whistles, supporters decamped from pitchside to the entertainment village, where bouncy castles, ball ponds and a kids' zone ensured that the younger generation were entertained. The event will conclude today, with South Africa looking to retain their title.