Rugby in West Asia has entered an exciting new era with newly established Unions now providing the impetus for the growth of the Game in what is a key growth Region for the International Rugby Board.
The governance restructure, which came into effect on January 1, 2011, follows a two-year transition period that culminated with the phasing out of the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) to pave the way for the new Unions to be formed.
The first Union to be established, the United Arab Emirates Rugby Association (UAERA), became a member of the Asian Rugby Football Union in 2010 and Unions in the Lebanon and Qatar have also been formed with the assistance of the IRB and Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) Regional Association.
The restructure will ensure that West Asia is in the best possible position to optimise the benefits of Rugby’s Olympic inclusion and will provide the blueprint for accelerated growth in both existing and emerging Rugby markets.
“These are exciting times for Rugby in West Asia and working in collaboration with the Asian Rugby Football Union we are currently investing over US$3 million annually in development, high performance and tournament programmes across Asia to ensure that there are opportunities for all to engage with the Sport. I would like to thank the AGRFU for their significant contribution to the development of the Game in West Asia and their commitment to this process,” said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset.
“We have been working in collaboration with representatives from all stakeholders who share our vision for the Game in an area that has great potential for growth. We are united in the common goal of the development of the Game and access to Rugby for everyone and we have been working hard to deliver a framework to achieve that goal.”
“Over the past two years IRB West Asia Project Manager Matt Oakley has been working with the IRB’s Regional General Manager for Asia Jarrad Gallagher to oversee the implementation of the new development process and competition structures. The aim is to increase overall playing standards and grow the player base in the area.”
“Laying the foundations for autonomous Unions to grow with IRB assistance in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and the UAE is a very exciting prospect and we are collectively ready to take the next step to help other countries too,” added Lapasset.
United Arab Emirates Rugby Association President, Mohammed Falaknaz said: “Besides collaborating on significant development activity, introducing the Game to new communities and producing a competitive international team, the UAERA looks forward to working closely with all existing Rugby clubs in the UAE and surrounding countries, and with ARFU to grow the Game in the UAE and become a successful model governing body to maintain the UAE as a Rugby hub in the Region.”
Central to the growth plans is an assistance infrastructure that will see each Union have a direct link to ARFU, unlocking IRB assistance in key areas, including technical and administrative support, coaching, funding and new competition structures which will provide a more clearly defined player development pathway in West Asia.
This platform will enable the Unions to concentrate on introducing the Game into Arabic speaking communities while their national teams can compete internationally, beginning with the new UAERA team taking over the AGRFU’s place in the 2011 HSBC Asian 5 Nations against Japan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka with many of the former AGRFU players joining Emirati nationals in the new squad.
It is not just on the international stage where competitions have been restructured and the transition will ensure that former AGRFU players do not lose out. The new Unions will assimilate the former AGRFU clubs to maintain cross-border club competitions. These competitions will be run by a centrally funded Competitions Management Secretariat, sanctioned by the individual Unions and ARFU.