DSC Eagles admission to UAE Premiership faces heavy criticism from city rivals

New rugby club will start debut season in the top division, a move that does not sit well with two of their competitiors.

A general view of Dubai Sports City where the Dubai Sports City Eagles will player their home matches. Courtesy of Better Homes

The chairmen of the two largest rugby clubs in Dubai fear the admission of Dubai Sports City Eagles directly into the Premiership could set a “troubling precedent” for the sport in the UAE.

The country’s oldest club, Dubai Exiles, will be pitted against its newest when the Eagles host the opening day of the new season on September 22.

The Eagles will be debuting in the West Asia Premiership, having been formed this summer.

The UAE Rugby Federation granted their place in the top tier after being impressed by a business model that is unique amongst major clubs in the UAE, in that the Eagles own their ground at Dubai Sports City.

All other UAE clubs are tenants at their respective home grounds, and thus have to manage often-exorbitant running costs.

The club themselves have said they were grateful for the chance to play top division rugby immediately, as it makes them a more attractive proposition for potential recruits.

However, senior officials at the Exiles and Dubai Hurricanes believe they should have had to prove themselves at a lower level before being invited into the top flight of Gulf rugby.

Dubai Wasps and Abu Dhabi Saracens, for example, both accepted places in the top division early in their clubs’ life cycles in recent times, with mixed effects. Each, though, served time in the lower leagues first.

“Logic would say a club needs to show it can compete on a sustainable basis before it gets to play at Premiership level,” Mike Wolff, the Exiles chairman, said.

“My club is 50 years old. It is older than the UAE itself. That hopefully suggests we have a pretty sustainable model, and hopefully we will always be around.

“But if the governing body is accepting a new club in the way it has done with the Eagles, allowing that new entity to both reject and eject other rugby clubs from sparse pitch resources, and who have already put a lot of effort into getting up and going, then I do worry for the future of the game in the UAE. It is setting a troubling precedent.”

Simon Lewis, the Dubai Hurricanes chairman, also feels the elevation of the Eagles is premature, suggesting the same scenario would be unlikely to occur anywhere else around the world.

“I’m trying to think of another institution in sport that would allow a side to enter its Premiership competition without proving itself first,” Lewis said.

“Would the English Premiership allow a team just to walk in, bypassing the four divisions you have to go through to get to the Premiership?

“Where else in the world would it happen, when you haven’t got enough players to field a full team?”