x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The region is divided

The IRB's frustration at the lack of Arab nationals playing rugby was crucial to their decision to disband the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union.

The performance of Taif Al Delamie, in white, of the Arabian Gulf side stood out during the Dubai Sevens.
The performance of Taif Al Delamie, in white, of the Arabian Gulf side stood out during the Dubai Sevens.

The International Rugby Board's (IRB) frustration at the lack of Arab nationals playing rugby was crucial to their decision to disband the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU). The ruling body's intention to divide the union, which is run from Dubai and includes the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait as full members, has been known for some years.

The fact the area is represented by a regional - not a national - side sat uneasily with the IRB. The make-up of the union was originally sanctioned for the purposes of developing each member to the point where they could become self-sufficient. Two years ago, the union reviewed their development and decided: "To establish within the region self-sustaining individual nations playing rugby at all levels of the game."

While the game thrives in the main expat centres, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the number of nationals playing the game is too small for the IRB's liking. Following an audit 12 months ago, the game's rulers advised the union to review the image of the game, and in particular assess whether "the stigma of alcohol is an issue stunting development". The progress on that count is understood to have been too tardy for their liking.

They are lobbying the International Olympic Committee to get rugby sevens accepted into the Games, and more Arab participation would bolster the perception of it being a global sport. As such, the IRB Council approved a plan last week to devolve the AGRFU and empower each of its member countries to spread the game. The union requested that the vote be deferred until next May, after the Rugby Sevens World Cup has taken place in Dubai, but that request was rebuffed.

The Arabian Gulf are likely to play their final representative rugby at the 2010 Dubai Sevens, after which their place will be taken by a new UAE national rugby team. Rugby is booming in the UAE but clubs from the other member countries are incensed at the IRB's decision. Karl Sutcliffe, the captain of Oman's main club, Muscat, said: "It would be detrimental. I don't think many of the countries would be able to put out a side in international rugby."

Taif al Delamie, an Omani national who is affiliated to Muscat, was the only Arab to play for the Gulf in the Dubai Rugby Sevens last weekend. pradley@thenational.ae