x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Sri Lanka rugby want clubs from Arabian Gulf to join them in Super Rugby style competition

Asanga Seneviratna, the president of the SLRFU, said teams from UAE, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan would be invited

Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in white, in action against Bahrain in the Western Clubs Champions League. Satish Kumar for the National
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in white, in action against Bahrain in the Western Clubs Champions League. Satish Kumar for the National

Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union want clubs from the Arabian Gulf to join them in a Super Rugby style competition for West Asia.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins are playing Kandy in Sri Lanka this weekend, in the second match of the Western Clubs Champions League.

The competition is generally regarded as a pre-season tune-up by the teams involved – Bahrain are the third side in this year’s competition.

However, Sri Lanka hope the tournament could become a precursor to a regional cross-border competition involving sides from the Gulf and South Asia.

The SLRFU have already been in discussion with Doha about them joining their domestic competition this season.

Doha initially floated the idea, as a one-off response to them being precluding from the West Asia Premiership because of the political boycott by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrian and Egypt.

 

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The logistics and costs of home and away fixtures mean that will not happen this season.

However, Doha could participate in Sri Lanka’s knockout cup competition, as well as their main sevens event, with an invitation to reassess joining the league for the 2018/19 season.

The SLRFU believe a cross-border competition involving sides from the Gulf, as well as India and Pakistan, would be extremely attractive to their sponsors.

“Our vision is to make something like Super Rugby in New Zealand, although obviously we would not be able to do it to that scale,” Asanga Seneviratna, the president of the SLRFU, said.

“It would involve clubs from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan if possible. Maybe we could bring in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand.

“These places aren’t too far, just three to four hours either way, and flights are reasonable. It is possible we can create this league in the near future.”

The Sri Lankan vision comes at a time when Western Force, the jettisoned Super Rugby franchise in Perth, are also exploring new options in Asia.

Backed by a wealthy mining magnate, the Force are reportedly in discussions about setting up a six-team Indo-Pacific competition, which could involve Hong Kong.

Seneviratna believes a far-reaching tournament is needed to help West Asia catch up with its continental rivals.

“The XVs game is fairly mundane at the moment,” he said.

“There has not been any serious growth outside Japan and, to some extent, Hong Kong.

“Japan’s success has helped them create a Super Rugby side. Our nations can’t look to do that at the moment, but we must look for other ways to achieve growth.”

 

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Sri Lanka rugby’s vaulting ambitions starkly contrast the prevailing mood in the Gulf, where many clubs have been crippled by revenue losses this summer.

If Harlequins do retain the Champions League by beating Kandy, they have admitted they would be unlikely to attempt to defend their trophy next year.

They were only able to compete this season as Bahrain agreed to play two away games, in Abu Dhabi last weekend and Kandy next Friday, meaning the UAE club only had to make one trip.

Even the Dh60,000 cost of their trip to Sri Lanka for this fixture is proving difficult to bear.

Andy Cole, the Harlequins chairman, believes the idea of a regional competition involving sides from South Asia is a fine one, but would require substantial financial backing to become a reality.

“It is a great idea, we like it, and obviously we want to be playing at the highest level we can to get the exposure,” Cole said.

“Unfortunately, exposure to us doesn’t mean you get sponsorship. This year has been really tough for us, and it is only because Bahrain came to us that we could play in this tournament.

“Next year, we don’t know. Unless we can pick up a major sponsor between now and then, it is going to be a tough one.”