x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Foreign investment can work in a sport as parochial as rugby

At London-based Saracens, the majority shareholder is South African, and they have gone from nomadic nearly men to Premiership champions.

English Premiership club targets Middle East investor. Nothing new there, then. Except this time it might be happening in the less-lucrative oval ball code.

When London Wasps staged an Anglo-Welsh Cup match against Harlequins - the first time a UK domestic match had been played abroad - at Emirates Palace Hotel in January, they said they were "building relationships". The club were in the throes of an attempt to secure planning permission for a new ground at the time. A bit of Abu Dhabi investment would not have gone amiss in that quest.

As it has transpired, Wasps might as well have been wooing potential suitors back then.

Nine months on, Steve Hayes, the club's owner, has put it up for sale, after the new stadium plans - which, he said, were set to borrow from the carbon-neutral ideal of Masdar City - came to nothing.

The prospect of a UAE, or Gulf, led takeover is an intriguing one. The financial risk, and therefore the rewards, would be far less than in football.

Most Premiership rugby clubs survive on less than what a top-end footballer in the Premier League makes in a year. For the most part, English rugby remains a parochial game 16 years after it officially went open, but there is evidence that foreign investment can work.

Across London, at Saracens, the majority shareholder is South African. It has done them no harm: on Johann Rupert's watch, Saracens have gone from nomadic nearly men to Premiership champions, even within the confines of an enforced salary cap.