Australians are passionate about the games they play and this passion endures in Dubai.
Australians love their sports and are ready to rough it out whenever, wherever. In the UAE, the abundance of sunshine, beautiful beaches and a strong community of Australian nationals have provided perfect conditions for Australian sporting activities. From Australian Rules football (or footy) to cricket, marine sports and even mahjong, Australians are engaged in various sports all around the year. "The best thing about Dubai is that it's bright and sunny and, except for a few months when the temperature is very high, the weather is really good to engage in a range of sports. But one of our biggest frustrations is that there is a shortage of proper rugby and cricket grounds," says James Wyndham, Consul Commercial, Australian Consulate General in Dubai. The Dubai Dingoes, the first official Middle Eastern Australian Rules football group, is very active in Dubai and one of the most well-known in the region. The Dubai Dingoes website provides an interesting anecdote linked to the origins of the group. It says: "In the case of the Dubai Dingoes, origins can be traced back to 1999, when a couple of Aussie boys took a footy down to training at the Dubai Celts Gaelic Football Club. These boys, Shane Booby and Paul Leonard, provided great amusement as the Irish lads attempted kicking the oval ball, and chasing the unpredictable bounces. Slowly with a bit of practice, the Irish got adept at kicking and training often started this way for some of us."
Australian Rules history
Historically, Australia is divided between two types of football — rugby and Australian Rules. The origins of Australian Rules football date back to the mid-1800s. It was played as a means to keep cricketers fit during winter and is a combination of rugby, Irish Gaelic football and a form of jumping and marking (jumping high into the air and grabbing the ball in mid-flight). It is speculated that the game was once played among indigenous Australians using a ball made from possum hide. While Australian Rules football was predominantly played in the three states of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria (with Melbourne being the home city for the game), rugby was played in New South Wales and Queensland. For many years the country was divided by these two sports codes. However, over the last 15 years the two codes have spread across the country. The Melbourne Football Club published the first laws of Australian football in 1859. The most prestigious professional competition is the Australian Football League, which culminates in the annual AFL Grand Final, the highest attended club championship event in the world.
"We are a small community and it's good to get out and play a hard, heavy sport once in a while and beat each other. We play for an hour-and-a-half every week at the Dubai Exiles Club, which rents out its grounds to us, and train Tuesday evenings at 6.30," says Philip Temple, member of the Dubai Dingoes. According to media reports, powerhouses Collinwood and Adelaide are set to face off in the first-ever professional Australian Rules football game here in Dubai early next year. With 15,000 Australian expatriates in the UAE, it promises to be a big occasion for the sport.
Auskick, which is the junior development part of the Australian Football League, has also been running in Dubai for several years. "Auskick is a development programme that makes playing the game a little more fun with drills and exercises. It gives the kids a great opportunity to experience the game at a young age," says Wyndam. Members of Auskick — children between the ages of six and 14 — get together at Safa Park every Friday to be initiated into the game.
Cricket in Dubai
Sponsored by Australian Business in the Gulf (ABIG), the Australian cricket team or ABIG Australia took off in the early '90s with some social cricket on the Waitangi Day. "As we grew bigger, we started playing at the Darjeeling Cricket Club," says Andrew Lane, Captain of ABIG Australia. The team has a full calendar now with four major events spread around the year: the Mubarak Cup, when the Australian team plays against the team from New Zealand; the ANZA (Australian and New Zealand Association) Cup; the Dubai Cricket Sixes Tournament played at the Darjeeling Cricket Club (with both local and international teams); and the Tri Nations Tournament with England and South Africa.
While their men are in the fields roughing it out, a group of Australian women get together at the French Bakery Café every Wednesday to play mahjong. Until the 1920s, the card game was almost exclusively played by the Chinese before being popularised by other nations. "The game is effectively the same as the card game Rummy and translated from Chinese means a 'game of sparrows' or 'sparrow tiles'. It is played in groups of three or four and on most Wednesdays we have 10 to 16 players," says Carmel Wallace, a regular at the Mahjong Club. "I went to the Mahjong morning the second week I was here after coming to Dubai seven months ago. I was warmly welcomed and it was reassuring to have an instant social circle. The fact that you share a common bond through the game of mahjong helps break the ice," she adds.