x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Talent drought for Afghanistan similar to the UAE's problem when it comes to rugby

Absent Afghans mirror the slow progress of spreading rugby among Emiratis in sticking with the game, writes Paul Radley.

Mohanned Shaker, left, and his brother Yousef, are exceptions to the rule as the two Emiratis have taken up rugby and stuck with the game.
Mohanned Shaker, left, and his brother Yousef, are exceptions to the rule as the two Emiratis have taken up rugby and stuck with the game.

The absence of Afghanistan from this weekend's Emirates International Sevens tournament for emerging players from the region is a loss.

Afghanistan were named as one of the six competing sides for this event at a news conference earlier this week - which was odd, seeing as it was known already they were not coming.

It is a pity because this competition would have provided a good chance to measure how far the UAE's small group of Emirati players have come.

When the two nations first met last year they were evenly matched, with UAE's Shaheen side shading a three match sevens series, 2-1.

Given the alacrity with which Afghans have taken to sport in recent years, there is reason to assume they could make rapid strides in rugby.

Look at their cricket team. They only really started playing the game around a decade ago, yet they marmalized Scotland, where cricket has a long history, even if it remains somewhat of a niche sport, this week.

Something similar might happen in rugby, but it is not proving easy to imitate cricket's success.

"The game is developing slowly and that we are facing severe financial problems," said Asad Ziar, the chief executive of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation.

"We have not have any increment in the number of players. We are trying our level best to do more for the development of rugby in Afghanistan."

Advancing the game among UAE nationals also remains slow, not least because of an apparent lack of staying power.

The likes of the Shaker brothers, Mohanned and Yousef, and Cyrus Homayoun are the exceptions to the general rule that it has proved tough to keep Emiratis interested in rugby.

Take Mohammed Hassan Rahma as an example. He was a pioneer for the game here as the first Emirati to play international rugby.

Then he had a few years out of the game, came back to it and played in the Dubai Sevens in 2011, then jacked it in again to become a pro surfer instead.

This time last year Mohammed Abbas, a flying winger, was touted as the future of the Emirati game.

Yet he has already drifted away due to other commitments.

And Majid Al Balooshi, the first product of the Emirati schools programme, said wearing the UAE shirt was "the best feeling I have had in my life" when he played in a similar tournament in November.

But he is also absent this weekend as he has not committed to training.

"We have the same rules in the [Emirati development programme] as in the senior men's team, that you have to be playing and training," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.



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