x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sevens to help game develop in UAE

The development of rugby in the Gulf hinges on next month's decision as to whether sevens is included in the Olympics, according to the man charged with the sport's progress in this region.

The Dubai Sevens has helped develop the game of rugby in the UAE.
The Dubai Sevens has helped develop the game of rugby in the UAE.

DUBAI // The development of rugby in the Gulf hinges on next month's International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision as to whether sevens is included in the Olympics, according to the man charged with the sport's progress in this region. Matthew Oakley, the International Rugby Board's (IRB) West Asia Project Manager, is overseeing changes to the rugby structure that will see the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) disbanded on December 31, 2010 and individual national governing bodies formed within each member country inside the next three years.

The key, according to Oakley, in ensuring respective governments embrace his blueprint to expand the sport outside of the expatriate community, is the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Olympics. "What is going to affect this at a real sand-roots level is the Olympic question," he said. "We all hope that it's a positive decision from the IOC in October." Rugby sevens, women's boxing and golf were last month recommended for inclusion by the IOC executive board.

That decision is yet to be ratified by the full IOC board and although many regard the October meeting as merely rubber-stamping, Oakley is not counting his chickens. "It may be 99 per cent certain but there's a chance the recommendation could be rejected," he said. "If that decision is positive in October it should open doors in terms of obtaining support from the region's governments for setting up national governing bodies, putting finance in place and growing the sport among young Arabs."

The UAE may prove easier to convince of the importance of grass-roots development than others but Oakley says he is well-qualified to sell the game to Arab governments, having been a foreign office diplomat in the Middle East prior to his IRB post. "I am used to dealing with authorities in this region and have contacts here," he said. "Nobody is thinking that we are going to see thousands of Arab teenagers playing rugby overnight, but we want to spark the interest. "If the IOC decision goes in our favour it will be a major catalyst to encourage governments to take a real interest in rugby."

stregoning@thenational.ae