x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Afghanistan rugby team eager to show cricket not the only game in town

Afghanistan’s rugby players aim to follow their successful cricketers, starting in Dubai this weekend.

Afghanistan enter the pitch at a rugby sevens event in Dubai in 2012, the team's first game abroad since the sport was introduced to the war-torn country in 2011. The team now hope to emulate the national cricket team's rapid rise. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Afghanistan enter the pitch at a rugby sevens event in Dubai in 2012, the team's first game abroad since the sport was introduced to the war-torn country in 2011. The team now hope to emulate the national cricket team's rapid rise. Marwan Naamani / AFP

Afghanistan will renew their affinity with the sports field of the UAE on Friday when their budding rugby players take on Iran, Lebanon and the host nation in a sevens tournament in Dubai.

Afghans are well used to thriving over here. The nation’s much-loved cricketers sparked frenzied celebrations in Kabul when they qualified for the World Cup after a one-day international in Sharjah last month.

Rugby’s development is still behind that of cricket. As well as the obvious challenges unique to the country, rugby has faced problems of a more generic sporting nature.

Afghanistan were supposed to play at the most recent edition of the West Asia Sevens, in Dubai in March, but they could not get the funds to travel.

However, Afghan rugby is getting there. Since March, their team have played at the India Sevens in Mumbai and entered an under 19 squad in a competition across the border in Pakistan.

Domestically, there is now an Afghan “Super XVs League” sponsored by the British Embassy, while the sport has even been introduced to some girls and boys schools, according to Asad Ziar, the chief executive of the Afghan Rugby Federation.

“We boosted our activities and we really had a wonderful year in 2013 and we have managed to increase the participation of some new players,” Ziar said.

“We are now getting some positive responses from some of our local news channels that they are covering our events and post news on rugby in Afghanistan.

“The way the media is cooperating and our international rugby contacts are pushing us to move forward, I am sure that till 2015 Afghan Rugby will be in a noticeable position.”

Despite the advances they have made, Afghanistan will have their work cut out if they are to cause an impression on the four-team tournament this weekend.

Lebanon were comfortably the best side in this competition back in March, while the group of Emirati players representing the UAE have also produced improved displays on the Asian Sevens Series of late.

“The gap is closing,” Qais Al Dhalai, the secretary general of the UAE Rugby Federation, said this week.

“After the facelift, development and investment in youth and with their experience of playing at the top level in Asia, I would expect them to achieve a positive result against the defending champions. We have the capability to win the tournament.”

Friday

At The Sevens, Dubai

Iran v Afghanistan, 4pm

UAE v Lebanon, 4.20pm

Afghanistan v UAE, 5pm

Lebanon v Iran, 5.20pm

UAE v Iran, 6pm

Afghanistan v Lebanon, 6.20pm

pradley@thenational.ae