Rugby in UAE: Abu Dhabi big enough for three clubs, says Saracens director

Steve Hamilton against idea of merging clubs, despite money worries, saying Harlequins and Saracens need more competition.

Merging Abu Dhabi’s two rugby clubs would be a backwards step for the game in the capital.

That is the view of Steve Hamilton, the director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Saracens, who believes the creation of a third club might even be a good thing for the game in the city.

City neighbours Harlequins won all five major trophies last season, but they have suffered a huge financial hit, losing half a million dirhams worth of annual sponsorship since then.

Hamilton says Saracens, who were the top side in the region three seasons ago, are facing similar money worries.

Professional football in the UAE has adopted drastic measures to streamline costs recently. Most notably, rival clubs in Dubai, Al Shabab and Al Ahli, were ordered to join together, along with a third team, Dubai Club.

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Hamilton does not believe the same is necessary in rugby just yet, although a ground share agreement might have mutual benefits for the two Abu Dhabi clubs.

“From a Saracens point of view, I think it is very important for Abu Dhabi rugby that there are two clubs,” Hamilton said.

“The capital city is big enough, and there are enough people here that you need that competition.

“I would like to think the speed at which Saracens came about, and won the Gulf Premiership three seasons ago, that shook things up.

“Until then, Harlequins and others had looked at us as flogging boys. Then all of a sudden they had to up their games. I think that is really healthy.

“There is no reason there can’t be a third club in Abu Dhabi – if there was a facility for it.”

Hamilton says his club, which has a far smaller membership base both at senior and mini and youth level, have also suffered financial losses this summer.

“Because we are such a small club, sponsorship has kept the club going, and we have put a lot of work into that in past years,” he said.

“We have just had two sponsors pull out, which has taken away income, just because of the economic times. It is not their fault – that pot of cash is no longer there.

“Having just one pitch at Al Ghazal makes it difficult to grow, but the costs of moving to somewhere like Zayed Sports City or Al Forsan makes it tough. It is tight, but we are going to keep at it.”