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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

UAE Rugby Federation chief Qais Al Dhalai: 'paying players is not one of our priorities'

Secretary general says offering Emirati players financial incentives is not the way to grow the game

Majid Al Balooshi, right, is one of the few Emirati players to progress to the UAE national team. The National
Majid Al Balooshi, right, is one of the few Emirati players to progress to the UAE national team. The National

The UAE Rugby Federation has no plans to pay its Emirati players, even though it acknowledges there is a problem with retaining them in the system.

In a bid to give emerging indigenous players more competitive rugby this season, UAE Shaheen have been entered into the Gulf Conference. The Emirati development side debuted in the division against Muscat on Friday.

One step down the ladder, the Community League, the third-tier of domestic competition, was first created as a means by which to introduce novice Emirati players to the 15-a-side game.

However, Qais Al Dhalai, the UAERF’s secretary general, has been disappointed by the amount of absentees there are from Shaheen training and matches.

He believes all sports in the UAE suffer from the perception created by football that all aspiring players should be paid to participate.

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“There are many excuses by the Emirati players, and the big challenge is to retain them,” Al Dhalai said.

“Soccer is doing no good for other sports. There is the general impression that soccer is giving players money, and retainers, where other sports do not offer that kind of financial benefit.

“Rugby is a sport where players are asking for a financial benefit, but we don’t want to do that.”

The federation have sponsors in place for three sections of their operation. The UAE representative team is backed by Emirates airline, Dubai Airports funds the Shaheen programme, while Land Rover and HSBC provide financing for grass-roots development.

For the past year, the federation have been seeking a backer for a new tier between the grass-roots and the Shaheen programme for “elite” Emirati schoolboys.

Al Dhalai says none of the potential income will go directly to players.

“Our idea is that we need to ignite the love of the sport amongst players,” he said. “If we go to the route of subsidising them, or paying them, where is the passion or love for the game?

“We would go to a dark time. We might not be able to sustain it now, but not in the future.

“If you have now a pool of 50 players, and you can afford to pay them, what in future when you have 10,000 players?

“Paying players is not one of our priorities. Although we have opened the door for them to play in the Gulf Conference, we are still challenged by the numbers who turn out for training.

“New players go and come back, and they are the ones who ask for financial support. It is not the way we want to run the organisation, and we will never go that way.”

A challenging financial summer for clubs in the Arabian Gulf has slowed ambitions the league might have of moving towards a semi-professional set up.

However, the federation believe the game here is still progressing, with the fact Doha are exploring options of playing in Sri Lanka as a sign the landscape for rugby in the region is changing.

“UAE rugby needs to start preparing for semi-pro scenarios,” Chris Bath, the UAERF rugby administrator, said.

“If Doha are going to go to Sri Lanka, we are changing the scenario of how we are going to play rugby.”

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