Dubai: This weekend (December 5-7) will usher in a historic occasion as the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens marks its 50th anniversary of the premier rugby tournament in the UAE. While the live music and tribute bands will help spectators relive five decades of the event, Dubai will turn yet another page in its sporting history as 16 men and 12 women’s teams go head-to-head in the main competition, which serves as the opening leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at the Sevens ground.
Founded in 1970, the event is the longest running sporting spectacle in the Middle East with the men’s 16 teams drawn into four pools of four teams. The Staffordshire Regiment was the first-ever champions at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Throughout the 1970s, fresh ideas and innovations made the tournament bigger and better and by 1987, the association with Emirates Airline began taking the event a step higher. Since 1996, Dubai started hosting the event as a qualifying round of the World Cup Sevens and three years later, it evolved into a leg of the International Rugby Board’s Sevens World Series — now branded as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
On the first day, each team plays the other three teams in the pool. The two highest teams in each pool advance to the quarter-final knockout rounds, and the bottom two teams move to the challenge bracket. On Thursday, Samoa and Canada will kick off the main competition at 5.06pm from Pool C, while defending champions New Zealand will take on Wales in the second fixture at 5.28pm.
Three more competitions act as a sideshow to the men’s event — a 12-team competition for women (on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series), Rugby Invitation tournament and a Netball Invitation tournament.
For the invitation tournaments, it’s a much more elaborate affair with teams taking part in 15 various sections, while the rugby invitational tournament is even more popular with hundreds of teams flocking at the venue. The netball tournament includes teams in three sections, namely Gulf women, Open youth and Open women.
After Dubai, the series will move to Cape Town, South Africa (December 13-15), New Zealand (January 25-26) and Australia (December February 1-2) followed by stops in the US (February 29-March 1), Canada (March 7-8), Hong Kong (April 3-5), Singapore (April 11-12), England (May 23-24) and the culmination in Paris on May 30-31.
The winner of the series will be determined by the overall points standings gained across all events during the course of the season.
Much of the attention this year will be on the qualifying spots for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the top four teams in the men and women’s at the end of the 2019 World Rugby Sevens Series automatically securing a place at the Olympic Games.
An additional six teams will join them through the regional association Olympic qualification tournaments that are due to to be held in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America from June to December next year, with only the top-ranked team sealing their Olympic berth.
Teams who miss out by either of these two methods will have a final chance to book their Tokyo 2020 ticket at the Olympic repechage event, featuring 12 countries.
As hosts, Japan have secured an automatic qualifying spot for the men’s and women’s competitions, leaving 11 places up for grabs in both competitions.
Pool A: Fiji; France; Argentina; Japan. Pool B: USA; Australia; Scotland; Ireland. Pool C: New Zealand; Samoa; Canada; Wales. Pool D: South Africa; England; Spain; Kenya.
Pool A: USA; Canada; Russia; Brazil. Pool B: Australia; Spain; Ireland; Fiji. Pool C: New Zealand; France; England; Japan.