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Rothwell confirmed the news on Friday, saying: “We have withdrawn for the 2017/18 season.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.”
RAK Rugby is the official new name of Ras Al Khaimah’s rugby team – drawing to an end a long-running saga over what to call the UAE’s most northerly-based club.
Rugby has been played in the region since 1969, and the first name that adorned the club jersey was ‘Goats’. That has caused issues over the years, and when the club debuted in the inaugural Community League three years ago, they were forced to change their name to ‘Rocks’ by the UAE Rugby Federation.
Officially they did, although they still continued to go by the original name, but chairman Simon Williams says the new ‘Rugby’ moniker is more encompassing and is here to stay.
“We’ve been very busy since the end of season and over the summer with a number of changes underway,” said Williams.
“First is the name changing from the RAK Goats to RAK Rugby. We had some potential issues with the name and at first glance it didn’t really tell anyone who we were and what we did, unless you were already involved in UAE rugby.
“At the same time, we were developing the club with a mini and youth section, an Under-19 Emirati team and we hope a women’s sevens team.
“The name therefore didn’t really reflect the diversity of our membership, or help with recruiting sponsors or growing the club locally, so for all these reasons we have decided to change it to RAK Rugby.
“It’s simple, clear and effective and still allows us to have nicknames for the various teams that fall under the RAK Rugby banner.”
The relationship between rugby and Ras Al Khaimah has been as rich as the oil that feeds the UAE, with the game played in the northern region in some guise since the first expatriate oil and port workers arrived 50 years ago.
RAK Goats were officially established in 1981, named after the indigenous goats that were found in the local Hajar Mountains.
The latest reincarnation of rugby in RAK saw the club re-established in 2013 after a seven-year absence by a group of enthusiasts disillusioned with travelling to the nearest club in Sharjah to play. The team turned up to the Sharjah 10s, borrowed some playing kit and ended up winning the Plate final.
In 2015/16 the club lost every single one of their inaugural Community League encounters, but better was to come last term as they finished a respectable fourth, while their nomadic existence was rectified somewhat when they found a home at their iconic sand pitch, built on the beach at the Bin Majid Resort.
They even won the Fair Play Team award at the UAE RF end of season awards, as well as attracting local and international interest and new sponsors.
“There are now big plans in place for RAK Rugby going forward,” added Williams.
“We’ve teamed up with Tower Links Golf Club to use their facility for floodlit grass training and we have showers now rather than a dip in the sea.
“We’ve also become associated with Barjeel health club for some pre-season strength and conditioning training and have three coaches to work on our game, two of which are specialised coaches.
“There are other plans afoot but these are still in the formation phase at present, but pre-season has started and we are actively recruiting new players and can’t wait to play the Arabian Knights on September 29.
“We will be having a trials session at the golf club on September 8 involving several local organisations and a barbecue and disco afterwards at Tower Links. Anyone is welcome to come along.”
Mike McFarlane has described Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ astounding 2016/17 campaign as a “freak” and insists his side have no right to believe another quintuple of trophies is likely.
Quins marched to an unprecedented season of success – winning the UAE’s three major honours of UAE Premiership, West Asia Premiership and Dubai Sevens titles.
McFarlane’s men also lifted the Western Clubs Champions League crown in pre-season as well as the West Asia Cup to complete a clean sweep of honours.
But he said there will be no sense of complacency from the Zayed Sports City outfit.
“Obviously everyone is talking about last year. It was a freak year,” said McFarlane.
“In competitions featuring such strong sides, to capture every trophy was phenomenal. But that’s done. That gives us no right to under prepare or think we have a right to turn up and get wins.
“Only hard work on and off the paddock will ensure we start the season well and can build with every game.”
McFarlane, a teacher at the British School Al Khubairat, is enjoying his summer holidays, currently at home in the UK, but his players have been putting the hard yards in during pre-season away from his watchful eye.
And even with many players throughout the club also away enjoying their summers, McFarlane revealed he is still able to keep track of their progress.
“We’ve followed up our phased preseason from last year with a few tweaks from what we learnt,” he added.
“Numbers have been fantastic since we started and players have had access to five-six sessions a week which have taken them through strength training at the world class facilities of Vogue and conditioning sessions both on and off the pitch at Zayed Sports City and Haddins.
“Players away with work or on holiday have programmes to follow and all their data goes onto a live document which the coaches can track.
“The new lads coming in have shown a great attitude and know there’s no complacency and everybody fights for a shirt. It’s that atmosphere and ethos which creates such competitiveness yet closeness throughout all Quins squads.”