x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Expat institution finds new home

One of the most important occasions in the sporting and the social calendar, the Dubai Rugby Sevens, starts today.

Workers prepare for the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Workers prepare for the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

It kicked off in 1969 on a piece of land donated by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the late Ruler of Dubai. A small group of expatriates, braving the heat, picked up the ball and ran with it. Since then the Dubai Rugby Sevens, which starts today, has grown into one of the sporting calendar's great events, attracting the world's best teams and bringing fans from as far afield as Scotland and Samoa. But it is far more than just a sports tournament. It is an opportunity for expatriates of all nationalities to enjoy the action, have a laugh and let themselves go.

Since Dubai became a feature in the International Rugby Board (IRB) Sevens series a decade ago the venue has always been the Exiles club. But as its popularity grew its traditional home could no longer cope. During the past year it was bulldozed to make way for the Mayden racecourse development. Now the event has a new home to match its ambitions in the state-of-the-art, 40,000-capacity purpose-built Sevens stadium, off junction 29 of the Al Ain road.

Tickets sold out weeks ago and with organisers expecting 130,000 people to pass through the gates during the three-day event it is already clear that 2008 will attract more people than ever. With 12,000 overseas visitors and thousands being pampered with corporate hospitality, the Dubai Rugby Sevens are an increasingly important event for the local economy. It also raises the curtain on a sporting social season that will culminate in the Dubai World Cup races and the return of rugby for the Sevens world cup.

There is concern, however, that the expectations and enthusiasm could be dampened by the remoteness of the venue and the difficulty of reaching it, and that fans hoping to enjoy the event in true rugby style, with ample liquid refreshment, may have to find their own way there, which would force them to drive and abstain from drinking alcohol. Emirates Airlines and the event organisers, Promoseven, have rented 170 buses to take people home after the matches. Buses will run every 10 minutes and drop people at five locations across the city including Festival City, Media City and the Barasti bar at the Mina Seyahi hotel.

However, there is no bus service to reach the venue, leaving fans with the difficulty of finding taxis or driving themselves. Mark Needham, a rugby fan who regularly attends Dubai sevens, expressed the concerns of fans. "Last year trying to get a taxi was virtually impossible, so I'm worried again this time around. We are told there are thousands of car parking spaces available but who would want to drive to a Rugby tournament? Organising buses back into Dubai is all very well, but how is everyone meant to get there in the first place?

"Rugby fans are delighted that there is a new, purpose-built stadium with a larger capacity, but at the end of the day it is meant to be about entertainment, and if you can't find a taxi, or end up missing most of the action, that becomes your abiding memory of the day. Let's hope it all works." Donal Kilalea, tournament director, confirmed that transportation would not be provided to get fans to the event.

"As with last year we will provide a bus service to take fans back to five destinations in Dubai after the event. "However, with fans leaving from all different parts of the city at different times of the day it was not possible to organise transportation to the event. We spoke to the RTA about providing a service to the stadium but they did not have the capacity, and obviously their priority has to be maintaining their existing service.

"We would advise fans to either book a taxi well in advance or drive to the venue. Car parking is free so there won't be a problem leaving it there overnight and collecting it the next day. "We have been working closely with the police to ensure that the message gets across that it is not acceptable to drink and drive. "The police will have patrols out in force and will be vigilant against anyone breaking the law."

tbrooks@thenational.ae