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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Dubai Hurricanes enter season looking to replicate thriving off-field operations on the pitch

The winding up of the Dubai Wasps is an opportunity for other UAE rugby clubs to avoid similar mistakes, says the head of UAE rugby.

Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham. Satish Kumar / The National
Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham. Satish Kumar / The National

After the head of UAE rugby this week warned clubs to heed the mistakes Dubai Wasps, one of the UAE’s largest clubs are hoping sound administration off the field will herald a return to the top on it.

Wasps folded this summer after seven years in domestic competition, because of insurmountable running costs.

Qais Al Dhalai, the secretary general of the UAE Rugby Federation, said their demise was “positive” for the game here, as it should act as a cautionary tale for others.

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“When I heard Wasps had stopped functioning, I told myself that was a positive, because those players would be joining other clubs,” Al Dhalai said. “It gives a lesson to other clubs. If I am a chairman of a club, I wouldn’t wait until a time I am the second Wasps, for another season. Things are going very positive from my point of view.”

Al Dhalai said all rugby organisations here, including the federation themselves, are competing in the same market-place, and he urged clubs to innovate in order to progress.

“Why did Wasps fail? Because they were dependent on one sponsor,” he said.

Wasps had previously given naming rights to a title sponsor.

“When that sponsor was gone, they couldn’t survive,” he said. “You need to be clever as a club. Instead of having one main sponsor, you can have co-sponsors or partners.”

Although Wasps were the only club to succumb entirely, many have seen their finances altered for the worse this summer.

Dubai Hurricanes are in the minority among clubs who have added sponsorship agreements and revenue. They even have their own designated “director of sponsorship”.

A number of Wasps players have joined their ranks, too, swelling the attendance at training to 60 players at some points during pre-season.

Mike Wernham, the Hurricanes director of rugby, is hoping shrewd management can help restore excellence on the pitch.

Hurricanes were the region’s leading club around the turn of the decade, but have been light on trophies in recent seasons.

“It is going to be hard, with Abu Dhabi Harlequins having such an outstanding season last season, Bahrain bringing out players, plus Jebel Ali Dragons and Dubai Exiles recruiting strongly,” Wernham said.

“We have done an awful lot off the field, and we have to make sure we are putting the right processes and systems on the field.

“We have managed to pick up some new players, some playing National League standard in the UK, as well as some from the Conference over here. The competition for places in higher than I have ever seen.

“Last year, I was new to the club and it was nerve-racking because we lost our first two games. It has been a big focus of mine in this pre-season that we be in the right frame of mind going into our first two games, to put us in a much better position than we have been in the past.”

Hurricanes begin their season by hosting Abu Dhabi Saracens in the West Asia Premiership at The Sevens, Dubai on Friday.

Defending champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins travel to Jebel Ali Dragons, while league newcomers Dubai Eagles welcome Dubai Exiles.