Clubs around the UAE have voiced their collective dismay after Dubai Wasps were forced to fold due to ruinous finances.
Wasps announced a month ago the club’s demise was a distinct possibility due to mounting financial concerns. The loss of major sponsor the Rose & Crown Dubai at the beginning of July set in motion the countdown to other deals being lost, leaving the club with a Dh50,000 deficit heading into the 2017/18 season.
Co-chairmen Laurence Parker and Ben Rothwell sent messages to players asking each to commit to paying a Dh500 membership fee for the coming season by early August, otherwise they felt that calling it a day would be the only option.
Increasingly depleted player numbers in recent years was also a major concern for the club, which has been battling to keep its head above water since 2014 – with players now free to join, and some having already left for, other clubs.
Rothwell confirmed the news on Friday, saying: “We have withdrawn for the 2017/18 season. We will possibly enter teams into the Eden Park 7s and Sharjah 10s as a social side but players are free to join other clubs. Costs are just too high.”
The rugby community rallied round Wasps upon hearing the news, with Sharjah Wanderers chairman Shane Breen fearing Wasps might not be the last club to fall by the wayside in what has been an increasingly alarming season off the field for rugby in the UAE.
“It was a shock to read about Wasps having to call it quits despite knowing for a while they’ve been in trouble,” said Breen.
“With Dubai Sports City closing its doors to two clubs and sponsors pulling back, Wasps might not be the only club forced to close its doors.”
Those fears were echoed by Andy Cole – the chairman of Abu Dhabi Harlequins who themselves lost major sponsor Etihad earlier this summer, putting in doubt the hosting of their mini and youth tournament next season, as well as the supplying of next term’s playing and training kit.
“Of course it’s very sad to see any club fold, but we have seen others go in the past and there will be others in the future,” Cole forewarned.
“There are plenty of clubs where the players can go thankfully but it’s sad for Wasps and the efforts by people to get the club up and running for so many years.”
RAK Rugby counterpart Simon Williams said his team had been preparing to encounter Wasps in next season’s UAE Community League, which is now set to run with 10 teams, while the second tier UAE Conference will run with just nine.
“It’s sad to hear this as we were looking forward to playing them in the Community League. It’s a shame when the financial commitments required to play in a league stop groups of rugby lads playing,” said Williams.
“I hope this isn’t the prelude to other clubs going the same way as diversity is generally good for a local competitive league to prosper. I wish them all the best of luck.”
One positive, according to Jebel Ali Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn, is that Wasps’ demise might strengthen other Dubai clubs who are also going through testing times.
Quinn said: “It’s not great news for the players of Wasps. The only positive I can take from it is that their demise might add a bit of strength and stability across the other clubs. Something has to be done to help clubs as it’s such an uneven playing field of costs and support.”