UAE Rugby has made promoting the game to Emiratis a priority while still plenty of expatriates make up the national team squads
UAE Rugby 'ahead of the game', insists Apollo Perelini as new decree aims at more expat involvement in UAE sports
The UAE Rugby Federation should be applauded for giving a platform for expatriates to play the game at international level, while still attempting to grow the game among Emiratis.
That is the view of Apollo Perelini, UAE rugby’s performance manager, who believes the federation were already “ahead of the game” before this week’s Presidential decree promoting expatriate involvement in representative sport.
From September, men married to Emirati women, as well as children born in the UAE and any player who resides in the Emirates will be eligible to register for sports clubs and, potentially, represent the country.
Since taking over the administration of the game from the multi-nation Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union at the end of 2010, the federation has made promoting the game to Emiratis a priority.
Thousands of UAE national children have been given a chance to play the game via the federation’s Get Into Rugby programme, while the sport was made a mandatory part of the school curriculum in January.
World Rugby rules permit for players to represent a national team if they have been resident in the country for at least three years. As such, the national team has so far mostly been peopled by experienced players from overseas who have moved to the Emirates for work.
Perelini, who played internationally for Samoa, said the decree is a boost for the game in the UAE, but that it will not detract from their duty to promote the game within the Emirati community.
“I think the UAE Rugby Federation has been ahead of the game in that it has always pushed for expats – but it has always been a struggle,” Perelini said.
“It has been more about getting approval from the General Authority. Now they are the ones who are now pushing this, it helps us with our cause, and we can move forward without restrictions.
“We will still look to include local players. The important thing is we continue our pathways and continue to develop rugby within our local communities.”
Perelini said he hopes the ruling will improve the acceptance of the contribution expatriate players make.
“It is nice to know that we can represent UAE with a passion, knowing that expats will be deemed acceptable in sport with the government agreeing to this,” Perelini said.
“In the past it was a case of, ‘What is this going to look like to locals? Is it going to reflect badly on us?’
“Now it is going to be part and parcel of all sports. I think the federation have always been ahead of it, and have been very good at accepting expats in their national teams when other sports haven’t been. We have been ahead of the game.”
Dave Knight is a British expatriate, but represents the country of his birth when he plays for the UAE. He says the national team players themselves have enforced a rule to learn the national anthem – it was not mandatory to do when he was at school – and that they are proud to sing it.
“I feel massive pride when I play for the team,” Knight said. “It is my home. My parents were here for 43 years, and just left three weeks ago.
“Both my sisters have moved back here. It has always been our family home. For me, it is playing for my country.
“Even the boys who have been here three, four or five years, I think they are feeling a massive amount of pride representing where they are from, because they have spent so much time here.”