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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

West Asia rugby considering neutral host for Doha matches

Rugby bosses in the region are assessing proposals for playing Doha matches on neutral ground in Muscat because of the Qatar boycott

Doha rugby team after beating Jebel Ali Dragons at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence in Dubai.
Doha rugby team after beating Jebel Ali Dragons at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence in Dubai.

Organisers of rugby in the Middle East are considering arranging matches involving Doha RFC on neutral territory in Muscat, as they try to manage the effects of the Qatar boycott.

Asia Rugby and the UAE Rugby Federation are assessing a tranche of proposals aimed at ensuring Doha remain part of the region’s rugby competitions.

The club are preparing for next season as normal, and hope to be able to host matches at their own home ground.

Whether that will be feasible appears unlikely at present, given the actions taken against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt since June 5.

“Various ideas have been floated and we are in discussions with Asia Rugby about the viability of these,” Martin Murray, the Doha chairman, said.

“It would be unfair at this time to go into too much detail of the options but I will say that we are pushing to play our home games in Doha. We will continue to work with Asia Rugby and the other Gulf clubs to get to some sort of solution.

“I can confirm we have asked that both the West Asia Premiership and Gulf Conference leagues are planned to have Doha as the final team.

“This at least allows us all to plan and if there is some change in the boycott status the reality of a normal league is greatly enhanced.”

The game’s administrators still aim to accommodate the club who finished runners-up in the West Asia Premiership last season.

Ghaith Jalajel, the rugby development consultant for Asia Rugby, West, said last week they are preparing “fixtures list with multiple options which includes and excludes the Qatar based teams”.

All the clubs have also expressed their intention to do their best to make sure Doha retain as great an involvement in the season as possible.

Proposals being considered have included playing matches in Oman, which is still accessible from Qatar, as well the UAE and Bahrain.

If Doha are retained in the Premiership, the competition will likely involve eight teams: four from Dubai, two from Abu Dhabi, plus Bahrain.

Given that all teams are feeling the strain of a straitened financial climate, playing a full programme of matches on neutral territory seems far fetched.

Doha would have to fly 14 times in the season, while the other clubs would also have to account for an extra away day in their budgets. The cost of an away match that involves flying for Dubai clubs, for example, generally starts at around Dh25,000.

One suggestion that has been made to the administrators has been to make neutral matches in Muscat “double-headers” – so one match carrying twice the points.

As such, Doha would travel to play seven matches, while their opponents would play 13 games across the course of the season.

Muscat, for their part, are keen to be part of the solution if required. The Oman club play matches in the Gulf Conference, meaning they have four cross-border away days themselves per season.

According to Freddie Sayers, the new chairman of Muscat, any clubs wanting to use their facilities would be welcome.

“We contacted Doha shortly after the boycott started to offer them use of our facilities here, should they want it,” Sayers said.

“We said that if they want matches, they want a challenge, and to find out who is the best in the region, they can use our grounds.

“The more use of our grounds the better. It is an asset that just sits there otherwise. We gave Doha an estimated fee, based on what it costs us. We don’t know whether or not this idea will be taken up, but they are welcome to.”