From humble beginnings to all-girl tournaments: Key milestones that shaped the Dubai Sevens

The key milestones of the Dubai Rugby Sevens that have helped shape the tournament.

South Africa are the reigning Dubai Rugby Sevens champions. Pawan Singh / The National
Powered by automated translation

The key milestones of the Dubai Rugby Sevens that have helped shape the tournament.


Four years after their tentative formation by a set of British expatriates, Dubai Exiles had become a fully constituted club, with a committee, a 10-metre by 4-metre clubhouse and 40 members. At their new home, opposite the Dubai Country Club in Al Awir, the club hosted their first sevens competition, inviting company teams and sides from the British Armed Forces.


Within two years of it being founded, Emirates Airline became the title sponsor of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, financing rapid advances of the competition, including installation of grass pitches for the first time in 1995. The airline now owns the event — as opposed to its originators, the Exiles — the grounds on which it is played, and is a leading presence in sports sponsorship around the world.


The first tournament of the new IRB World Series in the emirate was won by New Zealand. It was most memorable for a vicious brawl in the final in which three players — including both captains — were red-carded. “Yours is the best example of a tournament which has risen sharply from the ashes of that first dishonour,” Keith Quinn, the TV commentator, has since written of that 1999 experience.


After the old Exiles ground was torn down to make way for the Meydan project, a new home for rugby had to be found in time to host the World Cup Sevens in March 2009. A workforce of 1,250 people built the 42,500 capacity stadium on the Dubai-Al Ain Road. The design of the new venue had one main mission: to maintain the same sociable, old-school ambience of the annual Sevens tournament.


How far the tournament has come. Nearly half a century previously, the players were all foreign males, either working expatriates or military personnel stationed in the region. In 2014, there were more competitions played than there were teams at the first event, including one, for the first time, for Under 18 girls. The standout player, Sophie Shams, is a rugby obsessive. And she is Emirati.