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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Law change divides club and country

Changes to the Gulf's rugby structure, which will see the current region-wide organisation disbanded, has been met with mixed reaction by the clubs which will be affected.
Arabian Gulf league games between the Dubai Exiles, black, and Bahrain, red, could be a thing of the past following the new IRB proposals which are due to come into  effect next season.
Arabian Gulf league games between the Dubai Exiles, black, and Bahrain, red, could be a thing of the past following the new IRB proposals which are due to come into effect next season.

DUBAI // Changes to the Gulf's rugby structure, which will see the current region-wide organisation disbanded, has been met with mixed reaction by the clubs which will be affected. The Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) will cease to exist after December 31, 2010. Instead the International Rugby Board (IRB) is to work with the current GCC member countries, plus Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, to establish national associations and set up domestic leagues within a three-year time-frame.

These plans spell a big change in the administration of the sport in the West Asia region - the term the IRB use to describe this part of the world, but most of the clubs outside the UAE see the move as an opportunity to promote their domestic scene. Bahrain's club manager, Bob Phillips, has pitched his tent in the optimistic camp. "As far as the cross-border competition goes, I can't really see there being much of an impact," he said. "We are still going to travel to play the other clubs and the other clubs will still come to us."

Phillips said Bahrain, as a one-club country, looked forward to a boost in support from a national association. "The AGRFU squad has been mostly populated by the UAE-based players. There may be one or two Bahrain players who will be disappointed not to be a part of the AGRFU at events like the Dubai Rugby Sevens any more, but it also gives us the chance to strengthen our own players with a view to producing a Bahrain team."

However other, smaller, clubs do have fears. "We hope the changes won't affect us but are worried that countries like the UAE, with a strong domestic league, might lose interest in travelling for fixtures," said Howard Bevan, chairman of Doha. "We are reliant on clubs coming to play us. If the UAE clubs can play each other by driving half an hour down the road they may not want the expense of flying to play other GCC countries."

The IRB's Matthew Oakley, charged with implementing the changes, agreed there were hurdles ahead for Gulf rugby. "There are challenges in the cross-border matches," admitted Oakley. "But anybody worth their salt wants to see the game grow. When there is a change in a management structure there are always fears and we are taking these views into account." stregoning@thenational.ae