Plenty at stake for new boys UAE

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am


Wingers Cyrus Homayoun and Ali Mohammed represent the face of rugby in the oval world's newest member, the United Arab Emirates, who play Hong Kong in the final round of the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five contest at Hong Kong Football Club today.

The pair are the forerunners in an Arab rugby 'uprising' which Qais Abdulla Aldhalai, deputy general secretary of the UAE Rugby Association, hopes will become widespread.

For that to occur, the importance of staying in the top tier in Asia is vital.

While Hong Kong will be intent on sealing second spot for the first time in the HSBC Asian Five Nations, today's match has a major significance for the UAE.

'We need to stay at the top level of rugby in Asia. It is very important,' says Qais. 'When our union was formed last year, we were asked if we wanted to start at the bottom of the ladder, or take over from the Arabian Gulf. We obviously chose the latter.'

Last month's 24-10 victory over Kazakhstan in Abu Dhabi was played out in front of UAE nationals more familiar with soccer than rugby.

It was shown live on television and all over Asia.

UAE Rugby Association chief executive officer Ian Bremner said: 'It is vital for us to remain in the Top Five competition for then we will be seen as a strong and steady nation, continuing from where the Arabian Gulf left off.

'People want continuity. This is vital for sponsorship. They don't want someone who is here today and gone tomorrow.'

Victory over Kazakhstan and a 13-13 draw against Sri Lanka in Colombo has ensured UAE's berth in the Top Five next season. But last weekend's 111-0 thrashing at the hands of Japan showed they have a long way to go.

In a move to expand the numbers of its members, the International Rugby Board ruled the Arabian Gulf would have to cease to exist.

Consequently, the Arabian Gulf, made up of a coalition of unions from UAE, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, was disbanded last year.

With the biggest base of expatriates being based in the UAE, especially Dubai - which is also home of the Emirates Airlines Sevens - it was natural they filled the vacuum.

'We are still not a full member of the International Rugby Board or the Asian Rugby Football Union,' Bremner said. 'We are likely to be accepted next month.'

The newest member of the world rugby family has already taken a significant step by getting the UAE government to include rugby in school curriculums from next year.

'Right now, the game is played only in the international schools, but soon the local schools will also have it as part of their curriculum. This will help promote the game,' Qais said.

'This is a big step for rugby. We hope more Emiratis will take up rugby. I know we have the skills and there is passion in the eyes. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.'

He added: 'There is more pride in our team now for we are carrying the flag of our country on our jersey. We are no longer representing a region. We are a nation now.'