x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai Sevens key to rugby's Olympic hopes

The International Olympic Committee has space for two new sports at the 2016 games; UAE matches seen as boosting sevens' chances.

Isoa Damudamu of England on the pitch at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens last year.
Isoa Damudamu of England on the pitch at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens last year.

DUBAI // Rugby leaders are confident Olympic officials will attend this month's Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament to assess the sport's potential for inclusion in the 2016 Games. Sixteen international teams, including a Gulf side, will compete for the championship in the new, 40,000 capacity Emirates stadium. Running in parallel on five subsidiary pitches will be the Gulf club championships. The title is currently held by the Dubai Hurricanes.

No form of rugby has been played at the Olympics since 1924, when the gold medal was won by the US. Sevens, a variant of 15-a-side rugby union, has been included on the shortlist for 2016 together with baseball, softball, karate, squash, golf and roller sports. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has space for two new sports 2016. Dominic Rumbles, a spokesman for the International Rugby Board, said the popularity of the Dubai Sevens would play a key role in gaining Olympic status.

"Dubai has a proud tradition of rugby sevens and, with a new stadium, is now one of the sport's leading venues. This is reflected in the decision to begin the World Series in Dubai and host the World Cup Sevens next year. "With capacity crowds, a competitive, enjoyable tournament and extensive media coverage, Dubai will be an ideal showcase for rugby and be a major factor in making sevens an Olympic Sport.

"Rugby sevens is a very popular sport that attracts capacity audiences around the world. Rugby has an ethos of fair play and friendship that would reinforce the ideals of Olympic movement. "Rugby would extend the reach of the Olympics, bringing different nations into medal contention. The commercial success of sevens would also enable the Olympics to attract more commercial partners and audiences."

More tries are scored in sevens than its full-sized sibling, and the game has simplified rules. Becoming an Olympic sport would help broaden its appeal, Mr Rumbles said. "The Olympics is the world's largest sporting stage and therefore would provide a stimulus for the continued global growth of rugby." The IOC was unavailable for comment but it is understood that several officials will be attending the Dubai Sevens and evaluating the tournament against a set of criteria that includes diversity of interest and fair play.

The IOC will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, next October to decide which shortlisted sports will feature at the 2016 Olympics. Chris Gregory, captain of the Dubai Hurricanes and squad member in the Arabian Gulf team, said the tournament was an excellent way of attracting support and developing the game in the region. "The prospect of playing against the world's leading teams is a huge incentive for our players and we have found that more and more people have wanted to become involved.

"Hopefully this will make us more competitive. We have a good mix of players, some locally born, and although a few of us are approaching veteran status we hope to be competitive." "The Gulf team has been competing for around 10 years. The squad is mainly drawn from the UAE, although we have an Omani player this year. Kenya are in our pool and we have beaten them in the past so hopefully we can claim another scalp this year."

"Some of the guys have heard that sevens could become an Olympic sport and it is exciting for Dubai that we could be part of making that dream happen, and maybe even competing in 2016. The future for rugby in the UAE looks promising, especially as we have one of the world's leading venues." The Dubai Sevens are played over three days starting on Thursday, Nov 27. Tickets costs Dh170 (US$46) for the Friday and Dh230 for the Saturday and are available from MMI and Costa Coffee outlets in the Mall of the Emirates, or from the timeout.com website.

tbrooks@thenational.ae