x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Opportunities lost with the end of an era

Many of the Gulf region's small nations will not be able to compete at top level in next year's Sevens.

The Gulf’s Rory Binder on the rampage against Zimbabwe at the Dubai Sevens.
The Gulf’s Rory Binder on the rampage against Zimbabwe at the Dubai Sevens.

DUBAI // Reality is already starting to bite for the erstwhile players of the Arabian Gulf rugby team in the aftermath of their final competition together.

It is still unclear whether there will be a home side in next year's rugby sevens. The newly-formed UAE Rugby Association will now assume the Gulf's membership of the International Rugby Board (IRB), as well as their place in the continent's top 15-a-side competition, next summer's HSBC Asian Five Nations.

However, it is uncertain whether they will be invited to take their place alongside 15 other elite nations in the first leg of next year's IRB World Series at The Sevens.

What is for sure is half of the final 12-man squad to represent the collective regional side will be ineligible to play anyway.

Dan Bell, Shane Stapleton, James Love and Rory Binder all qualify to play for Bahrain, not the UAE, while Taif al Delamie and Jason Voyce are eligible solely for Oman.

With the rugby infrastructure in Oman and Bahrain far less developed than it is in the UAE, they will not get the chance to play at this level any time soon.

Binder will be losing out as much as anyone. The South Africa-born centre had played on the outside fields at the Dubai Rugby Sevens for his club side, Bahrain, in the three years previous to this weekend.

Handed his opportunity to play in IRB competition, in front of 40,000 people packed into the scaffolding stands at The Sevens, he was outstanding. Yet the chance to ever do so again is now set to be taken away from him. "It was an awesome experience for me, having played on the outer fields for the past three years, it was my first time playing in the stadium," Binder said.

"Bahrain will be their own region now and we have some good players down there as well.

"We will hopefully be competitive, but it will take us some time to come through the ranks in the Asian league.

"We will see where we get to, but it probably won't be anything like this for a few years, and it is sad."

All the players who represented the Gulf are now free to represent any other nations they qualify for, either by birth, residency or passport.

For the majority of them, as amateurs who essentially live in the Gulf for work purposes, that means the nation where they have lived for more than three years.

With rugby still in its infancy among native Arabs, the pool from which the new nations will be able to choose will be tiny.

"For a small area that plays rugby, we have done phenomenally well," Andy Cole, a former Gulf player and now the chairman of Gulf Rugby LLC, said.

"We probably have a pick of around 60 players who are eligible to play international rugby because of the ruling on three-years [residency] or passports.

"Of this squad, 60 per cent will not be eligible to play international rugby again, which is very sad."