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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Al Ghazal’s closure throws future of Abu Dhabi Saracens into doubt

Golf club's closure is set to impact the rugby club, which uses the adjacent pitch.

Abu Dhabi Saracens, in red, in action against the Abu Dhabi Harlequins at Al Ghazal Golf Club Rugby field in October 2016. Ravindranath K / The National
Abu Dhabi Saracens, in red, in action against the Abu Dhabi Harlequins at Al Ghazal Golf Club Rugby field in October 2016. Ravindranath K / The National

Rugby in the capital has been dealt another blow after Al Ghazal Golf Club was shut.

Abu Dhabi Saracens play their home matches on the rugby field adjacent to the golf club, which is owned by the neighbouring international airport.

The course was closed on August 1 after its owners failed to agree terms for a contract extension with its management company.

The news was a shock to the rugby club, who believed the golf operators still had three years of their contract to run, while expensive renovations had only recently taken place. It is believed there are three companies vying for the new tender, with the future of both the sand golf course, as well as the rugby field, unclear.

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The uncertainty has arrived at a bad time for Saracens, with most of their senior officials away. Jay Danielsen, the club chairman, has had to return to Australia for family reasons. Winston Cowie, the head coach, is in New Zealand. And Steve Hamilton, the director of rugby, returned to the capital this week after getting married, to be welcomed by this administrative malaise.

“Everything remains up in the air,” Hamilton said. “We don’t have any knowledge of the inclinations of the companies [who are bidding to take over use of the venue].

“We don’t know whether they want to continue to grow what Al Ghazal is, or if they want to build a block of flats on there. We have no idea.”

Saracens hope to start the new season, on September 22, at Al Ghazal as planned, but are now urgently assessing other options. Their Wednesday training session this week took place at Al Forsan sports complex in Khalifa City A, but moving there full time, or to Zayed Sports City, does not appear a viable option.

With a small membership base relative to some of the other leading clubs in the UAE, as well as a loss of sponsorship revenue this summer, Saracens would be unable to support costs that could extend to Dh700,000 for pitch hire per season.

“The short answer is we have no idea where we stand at the moment, we are just trying to see what other options are available to us until we work out what is happening with Al Ghazal,” Hamilton said.

Al Ghazal’s closure is the latest issue to afflict rugby in the capital, in a troubled summer for the sport here.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins, the region’s leading club, reported last month a loss of around half a million dirhams in annual sponsorship revenue. They, too, are on the lookout for new long-term, cost-effective premises, as their pitch-hire costs – which exceeded Dh700,000 at Zayed Sports City last season – are becoming impossible to bear.

A solution for both clubs might be available at Zayed Cricket Stadium. Abu Dhabi Cricket has opened its doors to other sports this year, in a bid to increase its own revenue streams.

A revamp of its cricket academy has been ongoing at the same time as the construction of two new, Fifa-standard, multi-purposes pitches.

The facility, which is scheduled for completion in mid-September, will be a training centre for teams during the Club World Cup, which involves Real Madrid, in December.

The operators want the venue to become a community hub for grassroots sport, while ensuring the pitches are not overused, which includes monitoring the exact type of footwear players use.

Touch rugby, the sport’s non-contact version, is already played on the academy cricket ovals, and the facility’s administrators are open to discussions with the city’s rugby clubs.

“We would love to have rugby down here, and we have already had initial discussion with Saracens and Harlequins,” John Larkins, Abu Dhabi Cricket’s operations manager, said.

“We have had a number of enquiries from businesses and teams who want to make the facility their home. We are more than open to multiple entities making this their home.”

Updated: August 3, 2017 05:01 PM

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