Dubai: The UAE can be a regional leader in women’s rugby after selecting an historic first all-Emirati women’s team for this weekend’s Dubai Rugby Sevens, according to Qais Al Dhalai, general secretary of Asia Rugby and the UAE Rugby Federation.
The UAE women’s side will play in the inaugural six-team Under-18’s Girls International Sevens Tournament alongside Hong Kong, India, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan from Wednesday. Two teams progress from a round robin to play in Friday’s final.
Al Dhalai has hopes to make the tournament an annual occasion while expanding it to more teams throughout Asia, with neighbouring GCC countries hopefully following the UAE’s lead and setting up their own sides.
“We are already heading towards being one of the leaders in men’s rugby regionally and throughout Asia, and now we are looking to do the same in women’s rugby too,” he said.
“It’s important for many reasons, first of all our leaders, Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Al Nahyan, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation and Chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and the wife of the late president and Founding Father of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has always supported women’s inclusion.
“Secondly, it’s mentioned in the Olympic charter that there should be equal opportunities for both genders, and World Rugby says that each member union has to have a male to female player ratio of 60-40, and that’s a mandate.
“So this is why we have set-up the first ever UAE women’s team, they have been developed over two years and this will be their first major tournament.
“We used to have a male to female ratio of 90-10 but within a year we’ve done a great job. We now have 800-900 female participants from which 12 have been selected for this team. Now they are Under-18s but in another two years they will be our senior team. In five years we hope to be at 60-40.
“It’s very important to grow the game with Emirati females and it’s the only way forward, you can’t just grow the sport with men.”
Asked if there were cultural sensitivities to respect, Al Dhalai replied: “Yes, of course, and this is a big consideration for us.”
“The players wear Muslim attire, no part of their body is exposed, they wear long sleeves and long pants and cover their head with customised clothing so we are fulfilling all religious aspects. We can’t just neglect that and do sport as that doesn’t work.”
Deidre O’Sullivan, manager of the Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series congratulated the UAE on its pioneering effort.
“It’s an indication that people are engaging more with female sport and an indicator that female athletes are considered on a par with men, and rightly so.
“This is a very encouraging sign. It’s positive to see the growth of women’s sport and it’s complementary to what’s happening globally. We are hugely encouraged and support this wholeheartedly.”