Rugby in UAE (United Arab Emirates)


Rugby Friends

Met with Dubai Exiles

Watched pre-season tournament at Al Ain Rugby Club

Met with Ghaith Jalajel, Technical Secretary of newly formed UAE Rugby Federation
 (replacing former governing body - AGRFU

World in Union Scroll - Profile

Ghaith Jalajel - Ex International Player (Jordan)

Country Blog

Calamity is a mild way of describing our final experience in Iran, trying to check the bikes through Shiraz International Airport. It quickly became evident that Iranian Rials were not going to leave the country with us. On a phone call, International terminal had requested us to bring the bikes unpackaged, that they could arrange the packaging themselves upon arrival. It was a clean process and the staff were both helpful and familiar with our situation. 48 hours later, and the wheels had fallen off. The word “bicycle” had been stripped from the Persian dictionary, and there was no human way that you could fit something over 6ft long onto a jumbo jet. Fearing for my own transport arrangements. I continued the conversation with discreetly bent legs. Wanting no further involvement in such a complicated scenario they sent us to domestic where we could package and drop our bikes. Unfortunately, the staff at domestic had never seen a bicycle before, and with the word now removed from the dictionary, were unable to find any description of what stood before them. Nobody had a clue. With my “patchy” Farsi vocabulary, I realised that one man suggested disguising our bikes as chickens, another, that we left it all with them and paid USD 200 in customs charges. They would arrange for the bikes to be forwarded to us in the coming days. Ah, at last we were getting somewhere, but having spent many years being fleeced by “wallet inspectors”, I decided to pursue further options.

We were now offered the opportunity to have the bikes packaged, but we would have to taxi them back to International. Bingo, with 2 hours to take off, we watched as 3 workers frantically bound our bikes with flattened banana boxed and string. We handed over half our remaining cash as 2 taxi drivers looked on, dribbling at the thought of the approaching fare. 1km around the corner, and we departed with the cost of a 3 hour taxi booking before rushing to join the security queue. Only here did the problems begin. Surprisingly, our boxed bikes didn’t squeeze through the same machine designed for handbags and purses, and so we hoped that common sense could now prevail. Not a chance. A precious policeman tried to force our bikes through the machine, only to pick them up and literally throw them into the corner. I didn’t have the time to appease him for a failed career in the force, and so decided to fetch the airport manager, hoping that we could make our flight in just one hour’s time. Forgetting that we were in a police state, I was reminded by the airport manager, that we had to comply with whatever the policeman asked us to do. We were told to tear open the bicycle packaging, push them through the scanner, then pay for new packaging on the other side of the machine. Thankfully, they allowed me to keep my clothes on as I was raped of my dignity.

Our wallet was left empty as we handed over every note and coin to pay for the new packaging. Thankfully, as the price was completely fabricated, they accepted the marginally lower amount, it was all we had. The airport manager eagerly followed us to check in, inquiring numerous times whether we were carrying any dollars. It became apparent that there were going to be more imaginary taxes applied to our cargo. “Spoke” tax, “Saddle” tax, “Pannier” tax, they were all waiting for us as we tried to drop our 8 panniers, 2 bicycles and wheels. We held fast and kept the dollars safely in our socks, this had already proven the most costly point of our trip. Once they realised these cash trees had shed their leaves, they finally announced that our cargo squeezed within their limits and we were free to progress. We sat at the departure gate with only minutes to spare, and at last we had made it. Upon boarding, and already stripped of my masculinity, I had no further energy to fight the Iranian body builder who encroached my arm space. I sat, twisted in silence throughout the unexplained hour delay before takeoff, as airport concerns grew that some passengers had not have been equally inconvenienced at check in.


The only thing to prepare you for a visit to Dubai, is a previous visit to Dubai, or to magically step into the dreams of a 5 year old child. Artificial islands in the shape of trees, kilometre high towers in the sky, air-conditioning on the outside of the buildings, it leaves you severely doubting your own sanity. Unfortunately, Dubai remains too warm for Santa, and too ridiculous for Mr Wonka but give it time and they will probably tie the city to a giant floating peach and relocate it all to the south of France.

The feeling for us certainly seemed exaggerated, having spent the previous 10 weeks sleeping on rocks and wearing the same pair of pants. Nor is it kind on the budget. £5 a day wouldn’t get you a wake up call in most hotels, and to travel on foot is an unrealistic and very sweaty option. Luckily for us Jodie had a good friend who was in the process of relocating his family to Dubai, with an empty villa awaiting them just outside of town. Overlooking a golf course, air conditioning throughout, it was the accommodation of Kings. The only drawback was deciding which of the 6 bathrooms to frequent when nature called.

More good timing was hooking up with an old friend from school, in town for a single day on business. My old hooker from the Dartford Grammar School “B” team, Hamza Girach. Now any traditional rugby fan will know, you start on the wing, and as you get older (and fatter) you progress towards the front row. Hamza started life in the front row, and despite being “out of contract” since the age of 16, I now found my old friend looking fit and trim. He didn’t explicitly tell me so, but I sense he’s searching for a comeback in the backs. If your club is in need of an athletic 30 year old, or would just like a player called Hamza, don’t hesitate to contact him, he’ll be sitting by the phone waiting for your call.

Touching on rugby now, as you knew I would, I have been honestly overwhelmed by what I have found here. Firstly though, I would like to talk a little about a man called Ghaith Jalajel.

In response to some very last minute e-mails, I got directed to Ghaith, who could provide the lowdown on domestic teams, national selection and of the transition from Asian Gulf rugby to independent unions. We jumped into his 4x4 and got aquainted as he drove us 150km to a pre-season tournament in Al Ain. There was very little this man didn’t know about rugby. While still playing on the wing for his club, Dubai Exiles, he was previously employed by the Arabian Gulf RFU (AGRFU), and has recently been appointed the Rugby Development & Services Manager for the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association (UAERA).Outside of these responsibilities he is a qualified rugby coach and coaching development officer. When we heard that he has also won 3 international caps for his homeland Jordan, we didn’t hesitate to invite his inclusion onto the “World in Union” scroll.

Rugby is not by any stretch of the imagination embedded into Arab culture, and so it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of individuals involved in the game are from the traditional rugby playing countries. Much of the rugby budget over recent years has been spent on costly travel, moving the Gulf rugby sides around each week to participate in a league structure that didn’t represent value for money in the sport’s progression. Under the new organisation, much more money will be available to invest into the younger generations of both Arab and expat youth rugby. There is a clear commitment from the IRB in place, and the appointments of characters like Ghaith emphasizes the intent of the development here.
Those following the Asian rugby story will know from my last report that Asian rugby is divided into 5 levels. The new HSBC Asian 5 Nations, down to the Asian regionals. Last year, in their final season, The Arabian Gulf team competed in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations and finished a creditable 3rd place behind champions Japan, and runners up Kazakhstan. The UAE will now replace the Arabian Gulf in this league.

I watched the 30 minute matches with eager interest, each of the sides like a team of Barbarians. Lineouts would be snatched by towering Fijian locks presenting to Samoan back row who would clatter into the unfortunately English standoffs. South African centres would do battle with Australians and Irish as children from all parts of the globe ignored it all, enraptured in their own game of touch on the sideline.

After the tournament I asked Ghaith what we had thought.

“Some good promise” he said, “in particular, the new team, Dubai Wasps, this is their first year”

“Yes, I agree” I replied, “they had several useful players, if that was their first runout I think they’ll go well this year. One player was huge, he looked like an overweight Trevor Leota!!”
I laughed at my comparison.

“Yep, that was Trevor Leota” Ghaith responded “he’s started his own team this year”
Thank god I had that conversation inside the car...........



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