It is 70 years since rugby union was first played in the region, when a game was organised between expatriate employees of the Kuwait Oil Company and a British military representative side. Today the sport is flourishing in the Gulf, with thousands of men, women and children playing for a cluster of clubs stationed around the region.
But, as The National reported, many of these clubs are at a crossroads, despite membership numbers that are often at record levels and world-class facilities at their disposal, such as Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City and the Sevens ground in Dubai. Hurricanes, for instance, has grown its junior section from 90 players just over a decade ago to 600 this year.
In other parts of the world, these numbers and facilities would be the source of envy. Here, club representatives say they are struggling with rising costs and strained revenues. Abu Dhabi Harlequins this week revealed it had lost Dh500,000 in sponsorship revenue for the coming season.
Most clubs draw much of their revenue from sponsorship and subscriptions, but it is becoming clear that these clubs will have to become more agile and more free-thinking to prosper in the years ahead. The administrators and committees who run these clubs will have to shed their old economic models and come up with new revenue streams to truly compete. That might mean more engagement with Emirati communities and institutions or it might mean collective bargaining to forge a deal with a broadcaster to show fixtures. Either way the old ways are not sustainable.