x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Deal with Dubai Wasps can sting rugby union team into action

Sponsorship contract with energy firm for the Dubai-based club side may not be a bad thing, Paul Radley finds out.

The Dubai Wasps, left, have changed their name.
The Dubai Wasps, left, have changed their name.

DUBAI // The Dubai Wasps have become the first domestic rugby club to surrender naming rights to a corporate sponsor after changing their name to Xodus Wasps.

The three-year-old club have agreed a deal with the energy consultants, which they hope will assist their bid to break into UAE rugby's established elite.

"It is definitely a seminal point in the club's short history," said Craig Gibson, the first-team hooker and club chairman.

"It is something we thought long and hard about it, but we realised the benefits outweighed any sentimental value we attributed to the name beforehand.

"The partnership allows us to do a variety of things we wouldn't otherwise have been able to."

As a consequence of the deal, the Wasps players will no longer have to vie for space with the public at Zabeel Park as they will now train at Repton School.

Apollo Perelini, one of the founding members of Wasps and a dual code international, will also return to the club to oversee their development in the role of technical adviser.

"The club want to aim high and they are serious about their ambitions and what they want to achieve," Perelini said.

"I am happy to be involved. The club were flexible enough to be able to give the naming rights when they were offered the chance of investment. I think it is an awesome relationship."

The new sponsors have already left a mark on the UAE rugby landscape. The Xodus Steelers won the International Veterans tournament at the Dubai Rugby Sevens last year, with ex-internationals like Caleb Ralph and Thinus Delport in their ranks.

Ironically, Perelini was part of the all-star Christina Noble Children's Foundation charity side who lost to the Steelers in that final, when they were pursuing a sixth successive title in the competition.

Their investment in the upstart domestic rugby team is designed to maintain an awareness of the company's name throughout the three seasons in which the initial deal will run. Despite the cash injection, Gibson cautioned against the idea of the club considering paying players.

The main objective is to break into the cross-border Gulf Top Six competition next season as one of the four best teams in the UAE.

"Our main aim is to become more established," Gibson said. "Becoming semi-professional is much further down the line.

"In terms of finances, we probably did have the capacity to bring players in on a semi-pro basis, but to be honest, I don't think there is much of a need for it or much of a market.

"Setting up the club, Trevor [Leota, the club's founder along with Perelini] was a pioneer who drew a lot of people in. We are in the secondary stage now where we are trying to build on that.

"We are not yet a long-term establishment where we have all the procedures in place, where they are written in black and white and you either adhere to them or you don't. We are able to be a little more flexible and we are excited as to what the future holds."

pradley@thenational.ae

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