The game of touch is thriving in the UAE but its rapid growth risks being curtailed by a lack of referees, according to two leading organisations behind the success of the sport in the region.
With the annual Zurich Corporate Touch 6s tournament set to boast a record 32 teams in 2018, and with grassroots take-up of the sport in schools reaching unprecedented levels, touch is one of the UAE’s fastest growing participation sports.
However, the number of new referees joining the game is not keeping pace with demand.
John Larkins, founder of METouch, the internationally recognised governing body for touch across the UAE, said: “Touch is still maturing across the region, with a lack of experience across all facets of the game – coaching, refereeing and playing.
“This means that those who do have the experience to referee are having to spread themselves too thinly, and it doesn’t help that people only seem to remember the referee when they make a mistake.
“More support and appreciation of refs is essential if we are to grow the existing small ‘pool’ in the UAE, which is vital for the future of touch in the Middle East.
“If we consider the huge numbers of youngsters playing touch now, we know there is a community of parents who could help and this is a target market for us.
“There also needs to be an increase in the number of senior players (under-15s and under-18s) refereeing junior games, as they do in netball.”
With the annual tournament taking place on this Friday, March 16, at Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club in Arabian Ranches, it is hoped this year’s event will highlight the crucial role that touch referees play and encourage more people to come forward for the sake of the sport’s future in the Emirates.
Nathan Stanley, a founding member of the Dubai-based Super 6s Touch league’s board, said: “Refereeing is often a thankless task due to a lack of respect for referees by both players and supporters, which can discourage many from taking up or continuing with the role.
“I firmly believe that clubs and teams could look to make refereeing courses mandatory for all players from early teens and upwards to ensure they understand the difficulties of the role and to enable them to gain a better appreciation of the rules.”
Although becoming a referee might seem daunting, the Super 6s League actively helps develop referees through its Federation of International Touch (FIT) certified referee qualifications.
It also ensures that a minimum of two referees officiate in its matches, which enables referees to learn from and critique each other.
According to Stanley, there are some key personable attributes required to become a successful ref.
“A great referee will have a strong knowledge of the rules, which is why players who referee help themselves to develop into more balanced and knowledgeable touch players,” he added.
“They will have effective communication skills and should be firm but fair. Being able to anticipate play developing is key, as is the ability to make clear and rational decisions in line with the rules of touch while under pressure.
“Above all, a good ref will instill confidence in players that he or she has the ability to facilitate the match fairly.”
And Larkins is laying down the gauntlet: “Many people are completely unaware of the amazing opportunities there are as a touch ref to teach and mentor both nationally and internationally, just as in rugby, netball and football,” he said.
“So we’re calling on more players, parents, supporters and generally anyone with a real interest in the game to step forward and take up the challenge.”
For more information on the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s tournament this Friday, visit www.ZurichCorporateTouch6s.com.
To register a team for the youth tournament (free entry), email [email protected]
They did it and did it the hard way.
Despite coming into the final week of the campaign on top of the table, Dragons needed a mini miracle to wrestle the title away from defending champions Quins.
Mike McFarlane’s men had very winnable game away at fledgling Dubai Eagles, while Dragons were set the task of going to a team unbeaten at home in 14 months, knowing only a bonus point triumph in Saar was enough.
They did it in style too, roaring into a 36-11 lead, although the home side certainly put the heat on Dragons late on with a stirring comeback as Louie Tonkin’s men ran in three scores to almost ruin the party.
“It was a cracking game,” said long time Dragon Ryno Fourie, who scored a crucial third try for the visitors.
“We were 20 points up at one stage but then they came back, fair play to them, and they had us worried. But we stuck to our guns. We were hungry for it and I’m glad we got the monkey off our backs.
“Since the beginning of the season everyone has tried their best. We came here just trying to settle for what we could do and try our best. We didn’t expect to win it with the streak Bahrain have been on. All the boys put in a performance, it was a whole squad performance.”
Up against it before kick-off, Dragons were also without their talisman, Saki Naisau, but scored through another Fijian, Niko Volavola, Jonathan Hamilton, Fourie, James Love and skipper Ross Sampson.
Quins had done their part, the reigning champions dispatching Eagles 55-3 at Dubai Sports City to earn a bonus point win themselves that took them onto 47 points. Dragons, matching their points tally for the evening, are champions on 48.
Rugby, bloody hell.
The dust may be settling on the Premiership campaign but a new row has been kicked up on the league’s final day after Exiles’ trip to the capital was cancelled at late notice.
But, for the second time this season, Sarries forfeited their fixture with Exiles, with the club citing player injuries leaving them depleted, as well as five of their French legion being called up to military duty.
Even though Exiles will receive a bonus point win, the result will carry as a 20-0 victory – thus hampering the 2015/16 West Asia champions’ hopes of increasing their points tally and affecting their chances of a top-two finish.
That brings with it the guarantee of a home semi-final in the West Asia Cup and the possibility of a home final too. It means Exiles and Sarries will not have played each other in 2017/18 as the capital city side also cancelled their earlier match at The Sevens in January.
It is also the sixth time Exiles have lost a game this season with their first and second teams having both had to regularly deal with forfeits.
And Exiles chairman Mike Wolff is calling for stern action to be taken.
“With the Saracens forfeit this weekend it’s their second against us and incredibly frustrating,” said Wolff.
“It means we won’t have played them once this season in what is supposed to be the showcase league for Gulf rugby.
“I understand they have had issues to contend with – the Exiles were in that same space five years ago – but we voluntarily dropped to the Conference to rebuild, and I think Saracens need to consider doing the same, before they lose any choice in the matter.
“If you want to play in the Premiership then you owe it to yourselves as rugby people, your club and other Premiership clubs to meet your commitments.”
UAE international Jaen Botes had been one of several Exiles players relishing a return to the club where they made their name. But even he has no sympathy for his old side.
The South African number 8 said: “It’s now the second time Saracens are forfeiting against us and it’s the sixth game this season our club has lost a game. It’s an absolute joke and clubs need to be fined for doing it.”
But a former colleague of Botes and Sarries skipper, Jonny Taylor, hit back.
“We have 15 players who have played in the tight five for the first team that are unavailable this weekend,” Taylor, speaking on holiday in Cambodia after departing following the forfeit, said.
“Of our absences, eight are injuries and the French military sent five away on a military exercise while two are not in the country. It’s very unlucky timing.”