DUBAI: The best 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams in the world took to the pitch at this year’s Emirates Dubai 7s as part of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series calendar, and there is compelling evidence that the annual event is helping to grow the game both on and off the pitch in the region.
While the global stars of this format of the game were wowing huge crowds at the Sevens Stadium, a busy schedule of age-group and invitational tournaments alongside the international fixtures painted a healthy picture of participation on the local level.
Off the pitch, four global superstars of rugby this year turned the spotlight away from the action to highlight the possibilities on offer on the sidelines.
South African World cup winner Bryan Habana, Ireland and Lions hero Brian O’Driscoll, England women’s World Cup winner Nolli Waterman and US sensation Abby Gustaitis all participated in this year’s HSBC World of Opportunity Programme, the latest step in HSBC’s long-term commitment to creating opportunity for the next generation.
This year the initiative is helping local teams in Dubai to further integrate women into sports beyond grassroot levels. Throughout the National Day weekend, there were a series of workshops aimed at showcasing the various roles available within the world of sport, partnered by World Rugby.
Waterman, who has carved out an impressive post-playing career as a commentator, hosted one session giving tips on podcasting, and she co-hosted another with Springbok superstar turned broadcaster Habana which offered essential tools on commentating. A third session created a mock press conference with Ireland legend O’Driscoll.
Waterman, a multiple Six Nations champion who also represented Team GB at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, said: “Obviously it is the dream of a lot of youngsters to play on the pitch in their country’s colors, or to line up alongside their friends.
“But there are so many opportunities to experience what it is all about to be part of a world-class event as a player, coach, referee, in media or administration or other roles,” added the former England fullback who scored a try on her way to glory in the 2014 World Cup final.
“The HSBC World of Opportunity initiative aims to give young people the opportunity to experience firsthand all the roles and responsibilities behind the running of such a brilliant tournament, and the young people on the program are absolutely thriving on the opportunity.”
Waterman knows from experience the popularity of the tournament, having turned out previously to represent England in Dubai. And returning in her ambassadorial role, she highlighted the rising levels of interest across the demographic in the UAE. “Dubai definitely has a place in my heart, I used to come here as a player and it is great to see the talent on the field.
“There is real evidence of the global spread of the game and also seeing the diversity in the crowd, the outfits and everything, it is obvious that men, women, boys and girls are all embracing rugby sevens and enjoying what it is about.
“It is fantastic to see the rise in interest across the region, not just in terms of the players playing the game but also that spread of fans. A lot of locals are coming here and enjoying themselves and embracing that wonderful atmosphere that sevens has to offer.
“The program this year also helps to further engage and inspire so many people about the opportunities around the game. With those players and people around rugby being passionate about the sport, it will only continue to grow.”