x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wasps owner finds inspiration from Abu Dhabi's Masdar City

Hayes looks at UAE capital as the London club looking to build UK's first carbon neutral sports stadium near Wycombe home.

Steve Hayes, the owner of London Wasps, at a press conference earlier this month to announce that the LV Cup match against Harlequins would be taking place in Abu Dhabi.
Steve Hayes, the owner of London Wasps, at a press conference earlier this month to announce that the LV Cup match against Harlequins would be taking place in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Flying the best part of 6,000kms to play a home match under floodlights on a lush grass field in the desert is not the sort of escapade that can be undertaken regularly if you care about your carbon footprint.

However, the pursuit of a environmentally-friendly future has been one of the main driving forces behind bringing tomorrow's LV Cup fixture between London Wasps and Harlequins to the UAE.

Steve Hayes, the owner of Wasps, said he wants to build the UK's first carbon neutral sports stadium, having been inspired by Abu Dhabi's Masdar City project.

Wasps are the tenants at Adams Park, the home of Wycombe Wanderers, who are currently placed second in the fourth tier of English professional football.

Hayes owns both clubs and has been looking to relocate to a new home which he hopes will be the "best stadium complex in Europe, if not the world".

His ambitions extend beyond growing the brand of both his rugby and football clubs, and incorporate a green vision which he first fostered when he read about Masdar while holidaying in the region. "We have to move with the times," Hayes said. "I have been working on the new ground for five years.

"Masdar was something I had read about, looked at, and really loved the concept. I know that [Masdar] has been slowed a little, but it is 20 years ahead of its time.

"A friend managed to get me in there and I was lucky enough to spend a day looking round. We are looking to build a new stadium and I would like it to be completely sustainable, the first stadium that is sustainable."

Last year, Masdar's directors announced they were reviewing plans for the Dh55 billion clean energy community, which is being built on the outskirts of the capital.

However, they reaffirmed their commitment to constructing a carbon neutral community which produces zero waste to landfills. The idea of sustainability has started to permeate sport in recent years.

Last July, England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) commissioned a study to identify carbon abatement opportunities within the sport.

For the first time, the RFU undertook an "environment policy" as a fundamental element of its business operation, as it seeks to reduce its carbon footprint ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

Football is also becoming more environmentally aware.

One body of research estimated League Two, the division Wycombe, Wasps' sister club, play in, produced approximately 19,200 tonnes of carbon emissions over the 2008 season.

Last year, Middlesbrough, the football club who play in the second tier of English football, were handed a grant worth £2 million (Dh11.7m) to install a roof incorporating solar cells, as part of a project to produce their own renewable energy.

Hayes wants to replicate that idea in his club's stadium project, which took a step forward last week when Wycombe's council agreed to a proposal to redevelop a local airfield.

"This is the best place to come and learn about construction," he said of the rugby club's trip to the UAE. "Sustainability is going to happen with a stadium, and we would like us to be the first to have it. The football club and the rugby club have a huge obligation to the community and to education."

Despite the peripheral benefits, the decision to play this fixture in the UAE - the first time a competitive UK rugby union match has been played abroad - has not met with universal approval.

A local councillor in Wycombe bemoaned the fact they were taking revenue away from the local area by playing the game in Abu Dhabi. The club's season ticket holders were also disgruntled to find they would need to lay out on an air-fare to redeem their coupon for this match.

However, Hayes reasons that the venture has brought valuable exposure to his club at a time when rugby union coverage almost exclusively concerns the international game.

"It is not a jolly, we are out here working," said Hayes, who estimated that a "good few hundred" Wasps supporters will have made the trip to the game.

"When the fixtures came out in June and pitted us against Harlequins in January, we thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to come out here to play some rugby.

"It is the week before the Six Nations and it is just the LV Cup, so there is not a lot of coverage back in England. This focuses the imagination.

"The weather here is perfect for rugby at this time of the year, and if it was in England there is a chance it could have been postponed. It could have snowed.

"For our playing staff, a lot of the players who are the backbone of our club don't get to tour, they don't go on England duty.

"The players who are away with England or the [second string] Saxons are absolutely gutted they can't come."

pradley@thenational.ae

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