Dubai: Dubai Lankans are set to roar in all its glory as they compete in the forthcoming Dubai Rugby Sevens after a hiatus of three years with renewed vigour following a rebranding of the club.
The Sri Lankan expatriate community in the UAE will have plenty of reason to cheer when the new-look Dubai Lankans carry the ‘Lion’ flag in the Gulf Men’s Social segment of this annual rugby event at The Sevens from December 1-3.
Founded in 2001 as a rugby club and regular participants in the Dubai Rugby Sevens for eight years, the Dubai Lankans were in danger of fading into history.
However, a club that struggled for survival got a fresh lease of life under the dynamic leadership of its newly elected President Mark Kirby who has repositioned it as the Dubai Lankans Sports Club since taking charge just over a month ago. “My only involvement initially was in finding a sponsor. I saw the passion and talent of the boys here in Dubai. Bringing them together to be part of a tournament is really great,” said Kirby who later accepted the Presidency following the request of Dubai Lankans Captain Kusal Wickramage and operations manager Ifthikar Zuhair to head the club.
“They’ve been working very hard. They are getting fitter. We can see how much they have progressed. There are some really good players in the team ready for the Dubai Sevens. So we are getting excited,” said Kirby whose passion for sports knows bounds apart.
“Dubai Lankans started off primarily for rugby. We renamed it as Dubai Lankans Sports Club to allow us in the future to expand the club a bit further into other disciplines. Starting with rugby, then we will look at swimming, running, and cricket. We are building a sports club that enables us to support some of the talent in Dubai,” said Kirby.
Blitz Blank is the sole sponsor for the Dubai Lankans team at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
“I’m a sports fan. Rugby in Germany is not so recognised but I know in this area (Dubai) it is one of the famous sports events. I’m looking forward to have a look at it. I watched it several times on TV. This is the beginning of my involvement in rugby,” said Thomas Schindler, Managing Director of Blitz Blank who also feels connected to Sri Lankans like Kirby renowned for his work as a philanthropist in the island nation.
Kirby ran the Colombo Marathon in 2014 to raise $6,000 for a school playground development project in the North East of Sri Lanka among other projects in 2015 and 2016.
However, Dubai Lankan Sports Club is not just necessarily for Sri Lankan people. “The expat community in Dubai is diverse and we want to be open to everyone,” said Kirby, who hails from north of England.
“Anybody can come and join the club. It is very much open to the expatriate community. We are encouraging people who got sports in their blood. Lot of people in our team have played rugby for many years. Some of them professionally back home. They come to work in Dubai. They don’t necessarily get the opportunities to participate in something like the Dubai Rugby Sevens which is a huge achievement,” said Kirby who wants to give back to the expatriate community in Dubai through sports.
“We have so many people who have got amazing skills. One thing we want to make sure is to take it to grass root. Make sure we put foundations in place because Dubai Lankans has a great history. Dubai Lankans Sports Club name is complete. We will have captains managing the four disciplines. We are building a revised profile for the Dubai Lankans and will launch the new website shortly. You can also currently follow us on Facebook at ‘Dubai Lankans’,” he explained.
“I’ve often helped many teams out here. Most people know I love sports and I put teams together to play sport. It makes the sport a lot more fun,” he added lauding the Dubai Lankans captain for pulling the team together and being a tough leader.
“We have a good team which has improved by training over the past five months. Most of them have played school or club rugby in Sri Lanka. Our goal is to reach the Cup final,” said Kusal, who has represented the club six times at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Lenard Malcolm and Niresh Fernando are two other veterans in a side comprising new young blood. Among them are Charith Kanishka who played for Doha Lions in the Dubai Rugby Sevens and Nawavi Mohomed who represented Qatar Lions.
Nilantha Chathuranga, Harris Muheed, Hashan Lackpahana, Don Jayantha, Dilan Jayasundara, Chalith Udeesha, Shiwanka Ranasinha, Sajith Lakmal and Chamara Prasanga complete the Dubai Lankans squad coached by Rajitha Ranawana and Mark
Dubai Lankans are in Pool D of the Gulf Men’s Social event with Al Ain Amblers Social, Expat the Unexpected and Abu Dhabi Harlequins Barbarians.