Sports event

UAE’s most historic sporting event returns as exiles seek Gulf title

It looks like the UAE’s oldest and arguably most popular sporting event is set to return after its longest hiatus to mark the country’s 50th anniversary.

The Emirates Dubai Sevens regains its traditional place in the sporting calendar on National Day weekend.


By the time spectators begin to walk through the gates on Thursday morning, it will be 726 days since their last admission to the weekend rugby festival.

The Covid pandemic last year achieved something that even two Gulf Wars failed to do, causing the Sevens to be canceled. Never in its history had this happened before.

And it is a story that precedes the formation of the country itself. A tournament which began as the Benson and Hedges Dubai 7s Rugby Tournament was first played in 1970.

It was an invitation-only competition in the shortened format of rugby organized by Dubai Exiles, the country’s oldest rugby club.

Besides the hosts, the participating teams were mainly British military teams based in Sharjah. The matches were played on smooth raked sand pitches, with pebbles previously removed, and lines drawn with asphalt.

The difference with today is immense. Grass pitches were set up in 1996, then the tournament was fully uprooted from its old home at The Exiles in Al Awir to the new site on Al Ain Road in 2009.

The founders of the tournament have also changed a lot. For starters, the Exiles no longer own the tournament.

They are however the preeminent force of national rugby, having won successive titles in the XV format.

They have supplied four players to the UAE squad that competed in the recent Asia Sevens series, and they are optimistic about their chances of regaining the Gulf Men’s League title for the first time since 2017.

“I really enjoyed this year,” said Carel Thomas, the Exiles scrum half who was one of the most notable players to win the plaque at the Asia Sevens Series tournament in Dubai last month.

“It was my first year when I moved to the Exiles to play in the Premiership [in XVs]. That year we also did very well in the seven-a-side tournament.

“I think we have a good chance this year. At Exiles we have four players who have represented the UAE in the Sevens Series, or at least were in the setup, so I think we have a chance.

“But the seven is a tricky game. A bad bounce of the ball and you won’t have the chance again, but I think we have a strong squad this year and we might be able to qualify for the final.

Updated: December 1, 2021, 12:27