Leading UAE rugby players are facing the possibility of another year without international rugby after Asia Rugby postponed their tournaments because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The continent's governing body announced the decision to suspend competitions that had been scheduled between now and July "until further notice".
The UAE had been set to play in the Asia Rugby Championship Division One in Sri Lanka at the end of April.
The tournament is due to involve Sri Lanka, Philippines and Singapore, and marks the national team’s return to the second tier of Asian rugby competition, after promotion last season.
Now, though, it is unclear when it will be played. Given the small windows in the calendar in which international rugby can be played, it is possible it might not take place this year.
If that were to be the case, it would be the second time in three years when the national team have gone through a calendar year without playing a Test.
Their two big wins in 2019 – against Guam and Thailand last May – are the only official matches they have had since 2017.
The squad had already started training for the new campaign, and were hopeful of their chances.
At the weekend, Asia Rugby announced their decision to postpone competitions in response to continued health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The health and safety of players, fans and everyone working on the events is always Asia Rugby’s highest priority,” Qais Al Dhalai, Asia Rugby’s president, said.
“This prudent decision has been taken in order to help protect the Asia Rugby community and the wider public.
“Our decision is based on the World Health Organisation and other relevant public authorities’ travel and health guidelines.”
Luke Stevenson, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins fly-half who captained UAE in the two wins last year, remains hopeful the side will be able to play their matches at some point.
“To be honest, we don’t know what is going to happen and we are waiting for more information,” Stevenson said.
“It is frustrating, and more so for the lads who might have been getting their first cap.
“We had only had one or two training sessions together, and a lot of the boys are getting their first go at it.
“If it does end up getting postponed or cancelled, then there will be quite a lot of disappointment.
“It is a strange situation, and obviously there is not a lot anyone can do about it.”
Dr Mutsuo Yamada, the chair of Asia Rugby’s player welfare and medical committee, said the decision to postpone competition had been made in agreement with each of the governing body’s five zonal medical officers.
“There is an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19, and cases have been confirmed in several countries across Asia,” Dr Yamada was quoted as saying in the Asia Rugby statement.
“We have had reports from all five zonal officers and everyone is in agreement [to postpone competition] in order to ensure the safety of all concerned.”