x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE to send all-Emirati rugby union team to the Asian Sevens Series

Decision taken as per Olympic regulations, which only allow passport holders to compete in next year's Asian Games, writes Paul Radley.

The UAE Rugby Federation has opted to dispense with any expatriate involvement in the playing side as it seeks to build a side for next year’s Asian Games in Incheon. Jake Badger for The National
The UAE Rugby Federation has opted to dispense with any expatriate involvement in the playing side as it seeks to build a side for next year’s Asian Games in Incheon. Jake Badger for The National

DUBAI // The UAE will be represented by an exclusively Emirati side for the first time during this season's Asian Sevens Series.

The UAE Rugby Federation has opted to dispense with any expatriate involvement in the playing side as it seeks to build a side for next year's Asian Games in Incheon.

As per Olympic regulations, only passport holders are eligible to compete in the Asian Games, which takes place in September next year.

"In our bid to represent the UAE at the Asian Games in 2014 at Incheon our squad for the Asian Sevens Series will be IOC qualified rather than IRB qualified," said Ian Bremner, the UAE Rugby Federation chief executive.

The task facing the developing Emirati side, who have always had at least some help from expatriate players in recognised competition to date, on the series is potentially a daunting one.

A Shaheen side bolstered by two highly-rated loanees from the Sharks Academy in Durban lost all their matches at the Dubai Rugby Sevens last year.

The likes of Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, meanwhile, will enter the series fresh from having just participated at the Sevens World Cup in Russia.

No matter the depth of his pedigree in the sevens game, the assignment represents a tough baptism for the new coach, Epeli Lagiloa.

The Fijian has more than 40 years worth of experience coaching the sport, but the raw materials available in his homeland, where rugby is the national obsession, is rather different to here.

He has been afforded a brief first impression of the task at hand having been in the country for a week now, and has overseen two sessions involving the UAE Shaheen team.

The build-up to his opening assignment, at the end of next month, is likely to be a novel experience for him, as the team will be training between 10pm and midnight during Ramadan.

"I don't know if 40 years involvement in rugby is enough for the UAE – maybe it needs more, maybe it needs less," Lagiloa said.

"Our target is the Asian Games and I am looking forward to making a start and making some progress towards that."

The Rugby Federation hope Lagiloa can use his wealth of experience to encourage Emiratis to regard rugby as a viable alternative to football.

"Rugby is the second game today after football but the competition is good between two different sports," said Saood Belshalat, a Rugby Federation board member.

"As they did 40 years back in football, rugby needs to do the same. It is not impossible that one day we will see people playing touch rugby where they now play football."

UAE sevens programme

Aug 10-17 Training camp and the Sharks Academy in Durban, South Africa

Aug 1-Sep 2 Asian Sevens Series, first leg, Kuala Lumpur

Sep 21-22 Asian Sevens Series, second leg, Bangkok

Oct 12-13 Asian Sevens Series, third leg, Mumbai

Dec 2-3 West Asia Sevens, Dubai (provisional)

The players The UAE Rugby Federation confirmed on Tuesday the country will only be represented by IOC qualified players – meaning UAE nationals – rather players who qualify under the IRB’s eligibility criteria in sevens competition from now on.

International Olympic Committee eligibility Point 41 of the Olympic Charter: "Any competitor in the Olympic Games must be a national of the country of the NOC which is entering such competitor."

International Rugby Board eligibility A player is eligible to represent a country in rugby in which, "he was born, one parent or grandparent was born, he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing."

pradley@thenational.ae

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