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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Out of West Asia Premiership, Doha looking elsewhere to play top-flight rugby

Logistical issues mean Premiership will be seven-team competition, involving four sides from Dubai, two from Abu Dhabi, plus Bahrain.

Doha, in purple, will likely not be seen in action in the West Asia Championship this season. Christopher Pike / The National
Doha, in purple, will likely not be seen in action in the West Asia Championship this season. Christopher Pike / The National

Doha are exploring options to play top-flight rugby elsewhere in Asia, after the announcement of the official fixture list confirmed their absence from the West Asia Premiership.

Organisers of the region’s top division, as well as its member clubs, had looked at a variety of different ways to include the Qatar-based club in the competition.

However, the logistics and cost of playing matches either at a neutral venue, or even in Doha itself, were deemed too difficult, because of the effects of the Qatar boycott.

Instead, the Premiership will be a seven-team competition, involving four sides from Dubai, two from Abu Dhabi, plus Bahrain.

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Clubs will have the opportunity to arrange a friendly fixture with Doha on “bye” weekends that have been written in to the fixture list for the season, which starts on September 22.

But Doha, whose second XV have still been entered into the Gulf Conference, which includes fixtures in Bahrain and the UAE, might have other commitments by that point.

“We have had a few conversations with Asia Rugby about the best way forward, and we all agreed the practicalities of travel in the West Asia Premiership would be too hard for all the teams involved,” said Martin Murray, the Doha chairman.

“All the teams were keen for Doha to be involved, but we had to be realistic. We are still working on options about playing elsewhere, and are working with Asia Rugby towards playing in a viable competition.”

It is unclear what specific options Doha would have to enter an overseas league.

However, for the first time, two Arabian Gulf clubs will play competitive matches in Sri Lanka, after the teams were confirmed for the Asia Rugby Champions League for Western Clubs.

The competition, which has been a curtain-raiser for the domestic season in recent years, will involve Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Bahrain and Kandy, the Sri Lankan champions.

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Harlequins, as the winners of last season's West Asia Cup, will host Bahrain, the runners up, on September 8, before flying to Sri Lanka, to play on September 15.

Bahrain will travel to Kandy to play on September 22, the opening day of the Premiership season, when they would otherwise have been due to play Doha.

“Kandy travelled the past couple of years, looked after all their expenses for travelling, and now they have said they would like to host,” Ghaith Jalajel, Asia Rugby’s development consultant for West Asia, said.

“The other two clubs said they would love to go to Kandy to play. These are good pre-season games for them.”

Jalajel also suggested it would be possible for Doha to join the Premiership if the political situation alters in the early stage of the season.

“People want Doha to play, because they are a strong, competitive club,” Jalajel said.

“If this is resolved early in the season, we can have them in, and it might be that they have had to forfeit the first couple of weeks. We can only control what is in front of us.”

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