A revised 2017/18 calendar has been sent to rugby clubs in the UAE due to the possibility of Doha playing in next season’s West Asia Premiership.
Due to the ongoing Qatar boycott involving several Gulf nations, including the UAE, due to alleged links to terrorism, it was widely believed that Doha would not compete in any cross-border competitions with clubs from the Emirates, as well as Bahrain, this coming season.
The UAE Rugby Federation released an initial list of dates for its competitions next season on July 1, with Alex Natera’s Doha a notable omission.
Newly-formed Dubai Eagles, based at Dubai Sports City, were granted entry into both the UAE Premiership and West Asia Premiership. But it has since emerged that talks have been held that could see the Qataris compete by playing their matches at a neutral venue – with Muscat the most likely option.
And Asia Rugby development consultant Ghaith Jalajel confirmed on Saturday that a revised rugby calendar has been sent to all UAE clubs with Doha included in the fixture list.
“It is a possibility we looked at and have consulted clubs about playing games at a neutral venue,” said Jalajel.
“We are still to come to a decision so I’m not sure whether this will go ahead. A draft fixtures list has been sent today to the clubs and we should be able to review and confirm all the fixtures by the end of this week or early next week.”
Doha were runners-up to West Asia Premiership champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins last season and have been a fixture of Gulf rugby for many years.
And Jalajel said their continued involvement is something that has received the backing of the majority of opponents.
“I would say everyone, all the clubs in the UAE, wanted Doha in the competition next year,” he added.
“It’s just a matter of feasibility and whether they can participate, in terms of cost and travel time to the neutral venue.”
The possibility of Doha being allowed to compete next season had been met with mixed reactions among the UAE rugby community last week.
The cost of travelling to Doha or Muscat has been raised as a concern, while some clubs feel it would extend an already swollen fixture list.
The possibility of Doha being allowed to compete in the West Asia Premiership next season has been met with mixed reactions among the UAE rugby community.
A number of Gulf countries, including the UAE, severed ties with Qatar last month. And Doha were subsequently a notable omission from the new 2017/18 fixtures calendar which was released by the UAE Rugby Federation on July 1.
The newly-formed Dubai Eagles have been granted entry to both the cross-border West Asia competition as well as the UAE Premiership – the premier club rugby competitions in the Gulf and Emirates respectively – next season in place of Doha.
But it has now emerged that rugby authorities in the Middle East are considering arranging matches involving Alex Natera’s side on neutral territory in Muscat, as they attempt to manage the fallout of the Qatar boycott.
Doha’s existence next season would undoubtedly maintain an edge to matches as well as add to the standard of play – Natera’s men finished runners-up to Abu Dhabi Harlequins in 2016/17 – while two extra games for teams would surely be of great benefit to Apollo Perelini’s UAE for next year’s Asia Rugby Championship campaign.
Yet the cost of travelling to Doha, at a time when many UAE clubs are struggling with finances, is a concern, while some clubs feel it would extend an already swollen fixture list.
“I am 100 per cent behind it,” said Dubai Exiles chairman Mike Wolff.
“It is absolutely beneficial to have them in it although any match in Muscat would have to be a double header, for example, worth double points. We can’t afford to travel twice to Muscat and once to Bahrain unless of course the UAE RF and Asia Rugby do the right thing and assist with costs.”
Quins chairman Andy Cole cautiously welcomed the possibility, while also listing benefits for Doha not being allowed to compete.
“It would be beneficial in that they are a strong team, but cost prohibitive for most clubs,” said Cole.
“It would be a shame (for them not to feature) as they were the closest team in overall performance last season and we know they are recruiting for next season.
“However, we also know they have semi-pro players who are paid so it may make things more of a level playing field for the other teams if they cannot compete.
“This is obviously something the clubs have no say in and we will of course await and respect the decision of the UAE RF and Asia Rugby.”
Dubai Hurricanes counterpart Simon Lewis is also skeptical of the recent development, fearing a congested fixture list.
“Should not the question be on the benefits of the UAE RF decision to allow the Eagles into the Premiership, given it was made on the basis of Doha not participating?
“The season is already having challenges with its schedule running into mid-April when it’s too hot play – that’s without Doha rejoining.”
Rugby in the UAE has undergone a meteoric rise over the last few years.
After the successful debut of the all-Emirati ladies team at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens last December, the standard of the game has risen beyond recognition.
The team recently made history when they competed in the Paris World Games – an experience that will certainly work wonders for the growth of the game in the UAE.
Apollo Perelini is one of the men whose relentless leadership can inspire more Emirati girls to take up rugby in the UAE.
Speaking to Sport360 earlier this month, Perelini said having these international tournaments available for the team can only encourage more female Emiratis to get involved in the sport.
He said: “If we can continue to give these types of opportunities to Emirati girls and enable them to travel to these tournaments and have these types of experiences, more and more girls are going to want to play rugby and pursue the chance to play for the UAE and represent their country.”