x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai-based rugby union clubs in push to reach the gain line

From administration to sponsorship, Exiles, Hurricanes and Dragons all rely on structured operational systems to keep running, writes Paul Radley.

The Dubai Hurricanes, in blue and gold, got the better of the Dubai Exiles on the field when they met in February, but both sides manages their businesses well off the field.
The Dubai Hurricanes, in blue and gold, got the better of the Dubai Exiles on the field when they met in February, but both sides manages their businesses well off the field.

Dubai's leading rugby clubs say they can foresee a day when the game here turns semi-professional, although each admit there is little value in paying players just yet.

Though the game is amateur in the sense that no players earn an income from the game, some clubs do employ paid staff.

Dubai Exiles, the oldest and largest club in terms of playing members, have one full-time and one part-time administrator to oversee the running over the club, for example.

"They play an absolutely critical role and it is a lot of work," said Mike Wolff, the club's chairman, said.

"It is pitch bookings, all the banking business we need to undertake, organising and monitoring kit and stock, as well as dealing with any issues club members might come up with.

"We have 750 playing members. That equals about 2,000 or 3,000 people who have therefore got some sort of involvement with the club.

"We have had people fulfilling roles in the administration of the club for a number of years. We could not survive without them."

Despite underachieving at first-team level in recent seasons, by the standards of their glorious past, the Exiles remain a club in good health thanks to their vast junior set up.

As with most clubs, they rely on three main income streams to offset the substantial costs involved in running sports teams in the UAE.

They aim to make up to 40 per cent of their income on membership subscriptions per year, as well as a similar amount on corporate sponsorship - whether that be cash or services. The sum is topped off by commercial activities, such as selling club merchandise or organising fund-raising events.

The Exiles also have a fourth revenue stream that is unique to them amongst clubs in the region.

The club were granted a multi-million dirham lump sum by the Dubai Municipality after they were evicted when their old ground in Al Awir was bulldozed. Wolff believes that some clubs here already offer assistance with expenses and playing incidentals to leading players, and says it is within the means of his club to do the same.

However, even though he has discussed the idea of it with the club's first-team coach, Jan Venter, offering inducements to players still remains just an idea at present.

"We could employ players if we wanted to, but I don't think it is appropriate at this stage," Wolff said.

"I don't have a problem with it. I think that if rugby is to develop within the UAE, there needs to be greater incentives available.

"What they are going to look like, I don't know. I don't have a problem for helping out the right people in the right cases."

Dubai Hurricanes, the Exiles' fellow tenants at The Sevens - which is owned by their sponsor, Emirates Airline - also have a paid administrator to look after a club that numbers around 700 juniors and 120 registered senior members.

They even have their own branded Post-it notes. Not bad for a club whose - highly successful - first XV still try to make out like they are winging it most of the time.

"Financially, I don't think we would be able to [pay players] at the moment," said Chris Gregory, the long-serving club captain at the Hurricanes.

The Jebel Ali Dragons, the champions, are likely to have the heaviest artillery when it comes to playing personnel at the start of next season.

That is due mainly to a robust recruitment strategy amongst the first team's senior players over the past two seasons.

Although none of their players is paid, Oliver Reynolds, the club captain, says they would have to consider the possibility if other clubs set that precedent.

"If there was a pot of gold for the end of each season for the trophy winners, the dynamic would change very, very quickly," Reynolds said.

"I'm kind of glad there isn't because it is an amateur set up. If that changed, maybe one or two clubs might pour lots of money in and walk away with it.

"One club might take the step to do that, then others will be forced to follow.

"If the Dragons didn't have a good structure internally, we could find ourselves out of our depth very quickly."

pradley@thenational.ae

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