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UAE Rugby – The Full History of Arabian Gulf Rugby

Published On: 24 Feb 24By 8.6 min read
Visit YallaRugby.com for up to date scores and league table standings
Visit YallaRugby.com for up to date scores and league table standings

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a growing rugby scene, with the sport gaining popularity among both local Emiratis and expatriates living in the country.

In 2009 the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth and Community Development and the Chairman of the Government of Youth and Sports decreed the formation of the board of directors of the UAE Rugby Association.

Since then the UAE Rugby Association, was responsible of developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates, It was awarded Full Membership status of the Asian Rugby Football Union on June 2011 and was then upgraded by the Government of Youth and Sports to UAE Rugby Federation in October 2012 after it has shown its commitment in developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) was then awarded a Full Membership status of the then International Rugby Board (IRB), now known as World Rugby (WR), in November 2012 which is the highest recognition that a Union could be awarded by the International Governing Body.

In 2009 the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth and Community Development and the Chairman of the Government of Youth and Sports decreed the formation of the board of directors of the UAE Rugby Association.

Since then the UAE Rugby Association, was responsible of developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates, It was awarded Full Membership status of the Asian Rugby Football Union on June 2011 and was then upgraded by the Government of Youth and Sports to UAE Rugby Federation in October 2012 after it has shown its commitment in developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) was then awarded a Full Membership status of the then International Rugby Board (IRB), now known as World Rugby (WR), in November 2012 which is the highest recognition that a Union could be awarded by the International Governing Body.

UAE Rugby History

Gulf Rugby has a long history in the UAE, with the first recorded match taking place in 1970. However, it wasn’t until the formation of the UAE Rugby Federation that the sport began to thrive in the country. The federation has worked tirelessly to establish rugby clubs and teams, as well as organising and hosting local, regional, and international tournaments.

One of the most significant events in UAE rugby history was the hosting of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2009. This was the first time the tournament had been held in the Middle East, and the UAE proved to be an excellent host. The tournament was a huge success, with fans from all over the world flocking to Dubai to watch the world’s best teams compete with an attendance of over 78,000 fans descending on The Sevens Stadium.

The success of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has helped to boost the profile of rugby in the UAE, and the sport has continued to grow in popularity. There are now a number of rugby clubs and teams in the country, providing opportunities for players of all ages and abilities to get involved in the sport. These clubs compete in local leagues and tournaments, as well as participating in regional competitions such as the Arabian Gulf Cup.

In addition to its clubs and teams, the UAE also has a number of excellent facilities for rugby. The 7he Sevens Stadium, built specifically for the Rugby World Cup Sevens, is a state-of-the-art venue that is used for both local and international matches. There are also a number of other pitches and training facilities throughout the country that are suitable for rugby.

uae rugby

UAE International Rugby

The UAE International rugby squad are made up of home grown Emirati rugby talent as well as local expats who qualify through their residents visas. The UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) became a full member of World Rugby in 2011. The national XV’s team have participated in the Asian 5 Nations up until the format change in 2014 where it is now the Asia Rugby Sevens Series (7s) and the Asia Rugby Championship (15s). In 2019 the UAE National squad were promoted into Division 1 of the Asia Rugby Championship having beaten Thailand in the cup final.

The United Arab Emirates mens rugby team are currently ranked 63rd in the World Rugby Rankings.

UAE Rugby Federation

In 2009 the UAE Minister of Culture and Youth and Community Development and the Chairman of the Government of Youth and Sports decreed the formation of the board of directors of the UAE Rugby Association.

Since then the UAE Rugby Association, was responsible of developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates, It was awarded Full Membership status of the Asian Rugby Football Union on June 2011 and was then upgraded by the Government of Youth and Sports to UAE Rugby Federation in October 2012 after it has shown its commitment in developing and growing the game in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE Rugby Federation was then awarded a Full Membership status of the then International Rugby Board, now known as World Rugby, in November 2012 which is the highest recognition that a Union could be awarded by the International Governing Body.

Gulf Rugby

Rugby is a popular sport in the Gulf region, with a strong following in countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. The West Asia Premiership is a highly anticipated annual competition that brings together some of the best teams from the region to compete for the coveted title.

The sport of rugby has a long and storied history in the Gulf, dating back to the early 1900s when British expats and soldiers stationed in the region introduced the game. In the decades that followed, rugby clubs sprang up in cities across the Gulf, fostering a passionate community of players and fans.

Today, the West Asia Premiership is one of the most prestigious leagues in the region, attracting top teams from across the Gulf. The competition is organised by Asia Rugby (formerly the Asian Rugby Football Union) which is the governing body of rugby union in Asia under the authority of World Rugby, which was founded in 1968 to promote and develop the sport in the region. In 2021, Asia Rugby moved their head office to the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai Sports City.

Despite the success of Gulf Rugby and the growth of the sport in the region, rugby still faces some challenges. One of the biggest is finding funds to help support the mounting costs that rugby clubs face each season.

However, with the support of dedicated volunteers, fans and club sponsors, rugby in the Gulf is continuing to thrive and grow. As the sport continues to gain popularity, it is likely that we will see even more exciting matches and talented players emerging from the region in the years to come.

Now, 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!).

A Brief History of Gulf Rugby

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.

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.

Semi-Professional Rugby

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. Some players are hired to play for clubs and in turn will help coach rugby teams within the club in return for their working visa.

As previously mentioned, the West Asia Premiership is 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 and we could see Doha RFC back in the Premiership by 2023.

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.

Amateur Rugby

In addition to the West Asia Premiership competition, the UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF), who are the local governing body for rugby union in the UAE organises a number of competitions for amateur rugby players with events throughout the rugby season.

These include the UAE Division 1 and 2, Womens Rugby Sevens Series (a shortened version of the game that is popular at the international level), as well as development programs and clinics to help grow the sport at the grassroots level within schools rugby.

Mini/Junior Rugby

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. 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 clubs in Dubai or other regions, look no further than Yalla Rugby – Your Home of Gulf Rugby!

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