Dubai Sevens: UAE's most historic sports event makes return as Exiles target Gulf title

One of the highlights on the UAE sports calendar is back after 726 days and the event's oldest club is confident of their chances

It feels fitting the UAE’s longest running, and arguably most popular, sporting event should return after its lengthiest ever break on the country’s 50th anniversary.

The Emirates Dubai Sevens is being restored to its traditional place on the sporting calendar on National Day weekend.

By the time spectators start pouring back through the gates on Thursday morning, it will have been 726 days since they were last admitted to the weekend rugby festival.

The Covid pandemic achieved something last year that even two Gulf Wars failed to do, in causing the Sevens to be cancelled. Never in its history had that happened before.

And that is a history which predates the formation of the country itself. A tournament which started out as the Benson and Hedges Dubai 7s Rugby Tournament was first played in 1970.

It was an invitation competition in rugby’s abridged format arranged by Dubai Exiles, the country’s oldest rugby club.

Other than the hosts, the participating teams were mainly Sharjah-based British military teams. The matches were played on sand pitches raked smooth, with stones removed beforehand, and lines marked with bitumen.

The difference to the present day is vast. Grass pitches were installed in 1996, then the tournament was uprooted entirely from its former home at The Exiles in Al Awir to the new site on the Al Ain Road in 2009.

The tournament’s founders are much changed, too. For a start, no longer are the Exiles owners of the tournament.

They are, though, the pre-eminent force in domestic rugby, having won successive titles in the XVs format.

They contributed four players to the UAE squad which competed in the recent Asia Sevens Series, and they are optimistic of their chances of regaining the Gulf Men’s League title for the first time since 2017.

Carel Thomas, playing for the UAE at the Asia Seven Series, believes his Dubai Exiles side have a good chance of winning the Dubai Sevens Gulf Men's title. Courtesy Marc Why

“I really enjoyed that year,” said Carel Thomas, the Exiles scrum-half who was one of the standout players who won the plate in the Asia Sevens Series tournament in Dubai last month.

“It was my first year when I moved over to the Exiles to play in the Premiership [in XVs]. That year we did very well in the sevens tournament as well.

“I think we stand a good chance this year. At the Exiles we have four players that represented the UAE in the Sevens Series, or who at least were in the set up, so I think we have a chance.

“But sevens is a tricky game. One wrong bounce of the ball and you don’t get the opportunity again, but I do think we have a strong team this year and we could be capable of going through to the final.”

Updated: December 1st 2021, 12:27 PM