x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Foundation building begins

Ian Bremner is building the UAE Rugby Association from the ground up.

The man charged with taking the UAE from "level zero" to becoming a respected rugby nation at international level has cautioned against expecting too much too soon.

Ian Bremner, the first chief executive of the nascent Rugby Association (RA), has only been in situ for six weeks, but he already does a nice line in Dubai-speak.

When tasked with assessing the challenge facing his organisation, he relates it to construction. He may be able to see the Burj Khalifa, that towering monument to UAE ambition, from the front of the association's offices in Diyafah, but it does not prompt him to indulge in blue sky thinking.

"We have to get the foundations of the house down before we decide how many stories we want to build," Bremner, 60, said this week. "The more people who come in, the more floors we can build, but in the early days we can't say we are going to do things that we can't do. We can't make promises and then not deliver."

When the RA officially assumed governance of the game from the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union at the start of this season, its ambitions were grand.

They immediately adopted the slogan of "Road to Olympics 2016", referring to their plan to enter a side into qualifying for the sevens competition for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil.

However, Bremner, who left a similar role in Singapore to pilot the new era of Gulf rugby, believes the Games will come too soon.

As per Olympic rules, only Emirati passport holders are able to represent the UAE, and few nationals play rugby at present. The UAE team who will run out in a Test for the first time next weekend is likely to be all expatriate.

"The organisation already had a plan when I arrived, but we are now very clear on what we have to do," Bremner, a former director of rugby at Exeter, the English Premiership club, said. "At this point in time we have no credit with a travel agent, we have no financial systems in place - we are at level zero in terms of a small business.

"[The RA's vision] is about become a highly respected sport which governs its game well domestically and achieves international success. That is pretty encompassing. It is not Rio 2016, because that is unrealistic. At this point in time, we have got to get a reputation in terms of administration for being well organised, effective, dynamic, ambitious. We want all of our representative teams to be within the top five in Asia. In terms of governance and finance, we want to become a respected organisation within UAE sport, in Asia and in world rugby."