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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Sevens in the sun: Dubai rugby's carnival of colour, costumes and even sport

Thousands are soaking up the atmosphere at the annual sporting spectacular in Dubai

Thousands of sports fans from across the world have descended on Dubai for the annual Rugby Sevens tournament.

Crowds enjoyed glorious sunshine on day two of the annual event, with temperatures hitting 30 degrees.

Now in its 49th year, organisers have said this year’s event will be the biggest ever, with more than 900 rugby and netball matches taking place over three days.

“It’s a big party, so far, so good,” said Nick Moore, 29, a pilot who is originally from New Zealand. “It’s such a social atmosphere, so we’re here half for the sport, half for the party. I’m confident about the rugby.”

As ever, there is a large selection of fancy dress costumes on show. Maddison Perry, from Australia, and Momoki Hirose, both 26-year-old air stewardesses, came dressed as Mario and Luigi.

“We just chose it because it’s cute,” said Maddison. “We wanted to come as a double act.”

The sunshine was particularly welcome for Gareth Thomas, a 51-year-old from England. Despite his nationality, he supports Wales. “I was last here in 2012 when it was pouring down with rain. It’s a lot better this time, although I’m a bit dubious that it’s going to change.”

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Sevens veteran John Gammans, 41, who is from England but lives in Dubai, described the event as “the best weekend in the UAE”. It is the eighth sevens in a row Mr Gammons, who works in construction, has attended. “I just love it for the festival atmosphere,” he said. “And it’s a good sport to watch as well.”

His wife Ciara, a 37-year-old teacher from Ireland, has been for the last three years. “Everyone’s always on top form,” she said. “It’s just a fun day, and the sport is fun to watch. I’m sure Ireland will do well.

Friday’s action followed an estimated 18,000 fans arriving for the first day of the tournament, on Thursday, when the women’s tournament got underway. England pulled off the biggest shock, beating Australia and the USA to finish top of a pool for the first time since 2015-16. New Zealand, the favourites, and Canada were the other sides to go unbeaten on day one.

Entertainment includes a Britney Spears tribute act, a ‘splash n party’ area for children and a Bounce trampoline park.

“This is an exciting year for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series,” said Bill Beaumont, the chairman of World Rugby. “Not only will the best women’s and men’s sevens teams again compete for the coveted world series title, they will also look to secure their ticket to Tokyo 2020 with the series acting as a principle route for Olympic qualification.

“Dubai has been a long serving and welcoming host for the world series and this year we are especially delighted to be back as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the men’s competition, which held its inaugural round in Dubai in 1999.”