World Rugby has announced the 2020 Dubai Rugby Sevens has been cancelled.
It is the first time since it was first staged in 1970 that the annual rugby festival will not take place.
The tournament had been scheduled for the weekend of 26-26 November.
Along with the Cape Town leg of the World Sevens Series, it has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“After a comprehensive consultation process and constructive dialogue with the host organisations, it has been decided that the combined men’s and women’s Dubai and Cape Town rounds of the [Series], will not take place,” World Rugby said.
“The decisions were taken in line with relevant government and international public health authority advice, and with the health and wellbeing of the rugby community and the wider public taking precedence.
“Both hosts are due to return to a full series schedule beyond this season.”
Gary Chapman, the president of the tournament’s owners and organisers Emirates Group Services and dnata, said the decision had not been taken likely, but was “understandable” given the health situation.
“We are of course disappointed not to be hosting the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens for the first time in 51 years,” Chapman said.
“But we understand the extraordinary circumstances surrounding today’s cancellation of the opening tournaments of the new season.
“With 28 national teams from 18 countries on six continents, the current pandemic has created a unique challenge to logistics with each country facing differing levels of restrictions on travel around the world.”
Faisal Abdulaziz Al Zarooni, the vice chairman of the UAE Rugby Federation, said they “totally support” World Rugby’s decision to cancel the event.
“The UAERF has been working tirelessly with Emirates, World Rugby and local sports governing bodies for the successful delivery of another [tournament] in 2020,” Al Zarooni said.
“Regrettably, the global sport events calendar is witnessing a massive restructure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic’s distressing impact on all our living aspects.
“UAERF believes player welfare is paramount. We totally support this decision which serves keeping every participant in the safe zone.”
The Dubai Sevens was initially founded in 1970 when Dubai Exiles, the country’s oldest rugby club, invited teams to play a tournament in rugby’s abridged format.
It was won by a side from the Staffordshire Regiment, a regiment of the British Army who were stationed in what was then the Trucial States.
The competition has continued since, and become arguably the most popular annual event on the UAE sporting calendar, with around 300 teams competing in the rugby and netball events last year.
In 1999, Dubai was added as a leg on the new World Sevens Series, involving the leading international teams.
The only comparable situation to the current one occurred in 2001. Back then, the tournament was downgraded and excluded from the Series, after a number of teams withdrew in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States - but a version of the event still went ahead.
Although the World Series event is not taking place this November, the organisers hope they will be able to stage a version of the invitational tournaments.
With domestic sport having seen a phased reopening in recent weeks, Tom Burwell, the tournament director, said plans are ongoing for a regional invitational tournament.
“Whilst we are unable to deliver the world-famous Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens in its traditional format in 2020, we are currently exploring options to safely deliver an invitation tournament in December,” he said.
“[It] will be invitational and club-level regionally focused across rugby, netball and cricket. We will announce further details in due course next month.”
Domestic rugby was halted just before the conclusion of the final phase of the season at the start of March as a response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Clubs have begun planning for the next season, with many advertising for new players, and training is permitted as per safety guidelines set out by the sports councils.