x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE Rugby Federation limits Sevens to Emiratis only

Dubai Exiles chairman says agreement on bringing expat and Emirati rugby together

An all-Emirati UAE Shaheen side, in red, played Doha in November and will be a regular feature at The Sevens stadium, Dubai. Jake Badger for The National
An all-Emirati UAE Shaheen side, in red, played Doha in November and will be a regular feature at The Sevens stadium, Dubai. Jake Badger for The National

DUBAI // The UAE Rugby Federation say they have no intention of discriminating against expatriate players and insisting that the national XVs side remains open to all who are eligible.

Qais Al Dhalai, the secretary general of the UAERF, acted to dispel uncertainty over the future of the international game here by calling a meeting with the chairmen of the clubs this week.

Doubts over where the game here is heading had arisen following the recent departures of both Ian Bremner, the chief executive, and Duncan Hall, the performance manager.

The decision to only select UAE passport holders for the sevens format from now on has also left the game’s overwhelmingly expatriate majority player base wondering where they stand.

Al Dhalai moved to allay concerns as he insisted that, while sevens is now “an Emirati business”, experienced players from overseas are still an integral part of the overall plan.

“The club chairmen were concerned about the future of the game and our strategic objectives for the future of sevens and XVs,” Al Dhalai said.

“The bottom line is that sevens from now on is an Emirati business. We have future commitments at the Asian Games next year in Korea.

“Only passport holders can play, so there is no choice. If you were in my place you would have to make that decision.

“But 15-a-side is open to everybody, regardless of colour or nationality.

“We are the regulatory body in the UAE to please all of the rugby community, not to discriminate against anybody.

“Rugby values are about growing the game, not discriminating against anybody.”

The federation remain keen to fast-track more UAE nationals into the 15 man game.

However, Al Dhalai is well aware this means getting players immersed in the club game first.

Emirati involvement at first team level in the UAE Premiership was more or less nil last season.

“We have tried our utmost to get Emiratis playing but we have failed,” Al Dhalai said.

“Last season we worked closely with Dubai Wasps to enrol Emiratis in their team.

“We paid their subscription fees, but it did not work.

“I don’t know why. Maybe there are cultural barriers between Emiratis and expatriates.

“We have to find a way which is suitable to both parties, which facilitates Emirati involvement in the clubs. It is not the players’ job – it is up to us and the clubs.”

The secretary general insisted the severed lines of communication, which existed between the federation and some of the clubs, have been mended. The renewed spirit of dialogue between the governing body and the community it serves is likely to be enhanced by the formation of a new committee representing the clubs.

“It was a good meeting and we have agreed to work together on a way to bring the world of expat rugby and the world of Emirati rugby together,” said Mike Wolff, the chairman of the Dubai Exiles.

“All the clubs said they would feel very proud to have an Emirati from their team representing the national team – as we would any other player.”

pradley@thenational.ae