Coronavirus brings West Asia Premiership to a premature halt

Travel restrictions bring season to standstill with two games to play with Bahrain set to be crowned champions

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Paul Radley: Tigers Ismaila Ngum scores. Dubai Tigers (red) take on the Dubai Knights Eagles in the West Asia Premiership. Friday, February 14th, 2020. Dubai College, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Travel restrictions related to coronavirus have brought the West Asia Premiership season to a premature halt.

Bahrain are likely to be crowned champions, despite having two regular season matches as well as the final still to play.

The defending champions had already all but assured hosting rights for a final against Dubai Exiles, who themselves still have one match to play.

They lead the standings by two points from the Exiles, with home matches against Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons still outstanding.

Harlequins were unable to travel to Saar at the weekend because of flight cancellations to and from Bahrain.

That match had initially been rescheduled for Friday, March 13, but will now not go ahead.

Dragons were facing a similar issue ahead of this Friday’s fixture, before Gulf Rugby Management (GRM) took the decision to cancel the remaining matches.

“Due to the current coronavirus health situation within the region, GRM have been working with Asia Rugby and the UAE Rugby Federation regarding the West Asia Championship,” the competition organisers said in a statement.

“On advice from Asia Rugby and UAERF, the decision has been taken that all future games scheduled to be played in the 2019-2020 West Asia Championship are cancelled.

“We expect to release further information on how the final West Asia Championship standings will be determined within the next 24 hours.”

The GRM said that matches in the UAE Premiership, Division One and Division Two, will continue as planned.

As such, it appears likely that Exiles will actually go ahead of Bahrain in the points standings, as they face struggling Dubai Knights Eagles on Wednesday night.

Because of the way the competitions are structured, matches played between UAE teams count towards both the West Asia and UAE Premierships.

However, whatever points Bahrain are handed for the cancelled fixtures against Harlequins and Dragons are likely to give them first place, and thus another title.

Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, had been hopeful that the final could be played, so they could try to avenge an agonising defeat in the corresponding fixture last season. But he accepted the issue was beyond anyone’s control.

“It is a hard situation,” Benade said. “Of course, we wanted to play the game, but health and safety is the most important thing.

“To be fair, we have lost two games and Bahrain have lost one, so at the moment they must be the better team. But it is always nice to play in that final, and you never know what happens on the day.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 8, 2019.  
SUBJECT NAME / MATCH / COMPETITION: West Asia Premiership: Dubai Knights Eagles v Dubai Tigers, Domestic top division match.  
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  SP
Reporter:  Paul Radley
Dubai Knights Eagles take on the Dubai Tigers in the West Asia Premiership in November. Victor Besa / The National

Bahrain are the only non-UAE side in the West Asia competition, but even internal fixtures have been affected.

Dubai Tigers are scheduled to host the final match of their debut campaign in the competition against Dubai Hurricanes on Friday. However, their home ground is the school playing fields at Dubai College.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority this week ruled that gatherings for sport be cancelled indefinitely – even for external use.

“To make sure everyone in Dubai stays safe, all internal and external gatherings at private schools and universities in Dubai have been cancelled,” the KHDA announced on Twitter.

“This includes camps, sports, and trips. This is a precautionary action only. Safety is always our top priority.”

As such, Friday’s fixture is likely to be hosted at The Sevens, the home ground of the Hurricanes, instead.

The Al Ain Amblers mini and youth rugby festival has also been cancelled this weekend.

Clubs will be permitted to continue with junior training sessions, though. “We have to be cautious, especially when it comes to children,” Andy Cole, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins chairman, said.

“We are watching the media. We are sending the message to parents saying there has been no official directive, but it is your choice if you want to bring your kids to training or not.”