Yalla Rugby – The Home of Gulf Rugby
Online and frequently at Rugby Park – Dubai Sports City – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Then look no further. We’ve got you covered!
When the Middle East is mentioned in rugby, it’s normally related to the ever-popular Dubai leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens. What many young rugby fans might not be aware of, is the thriving Gulf rugby community that has been rapidly growing over the past 50 years. Back in the early 1970’s, Gulf rugby had a very different landscape to what it is now (much like the Dubai skyline!).
Governed by the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU), which was formed in 1974 under the RFU umbrella, regional competitions were held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Many people still think rugby is played on sand pitches, but that isn’t the case anymore and rugby fields, certainly in Dubai, meet a very high standard.
The AGRFU lasted until 2010 when it was split into separate unions in a bid to grow the game further in the region. The UAE Rugby Federation, first to be formed in 2009, went on to manage the domestic side of rugby and became a full member union of World Rugby in November 2012. Now, after more than 10 years of growth, it has over 100,000 players (47% female) throughout local government schools with the view to reach the Olympics after the sport became part of the national school curriculum.
The standard of rugby played in the Gulf, is still very much amateur and could be compared to that of Level 3 rugby in the English National League.
Known as the West Asia Premiership, a cross border championship between the UAE and the addition of Bahrain RFC and (normally) Qatar’s Doha RFC. In June 2017, the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, so Doha RFC were withdrawn from the competition. They do, however, still feature in the Dubai Rugby 7s that takes place each December. According to analysts, the feud between the two countries might come to an end soon.
The West Asia Premiership consists of seven rugby clubs, with five clubs featuring from Dubai, one club from Abu Dhabi and the aforementioned Bahrain RFC.
The second tier of Gulf rugby is Division 1, comprising of twelve clubs from around the UAE. Half of the league is made up of 2nd XV squads from the Premiership and the other half are smaller clubs from around Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
Still relatively in its infancy, the ladies league is played out very similarly to the World Sevens Series with each rugby club hosting a 7s round robin tournament every two weeks. The tournament is seeded into A and B leagues which sees clubs entering 2-3 teams each, making sure that all levels of ability can enjoy a good run out.
Probably the biggest increase in player numbers in recent years has been at grass roots level. Starting from Under 4 and going up to Under 19 colts, both younger girls and boys can learn the basics of playing rugby union throughout the Emirates. Junior players are usually introduced to the sport by playing touch (tag) rugby with the help of many of the local schools including rugby in their education program.
With the Middle East such a transient part of the world, players are always moving in and out of the region, either for work or to live as expats. If you are looking for more information on rugby in Dubai or other regions, look no further than Yalla Rugby – Your Home of Gulf Rugby!