The Kuwait Scorpions Rugby Football Club - 1950s.
Rugby in the Gulf
The contents of this Postscript are taken from two sources on Wikipedia (Rugby Union in the Arabian Peninsula; and Arabian Gulf Football Union) and the GRFU Handbook 1985 (GRFU Club Histories).
Rugby in the Middle East was a surprising phenomenon. Its beginnings, from the sand pitches for which it is famed, now stand as a testament to the spirit and ingenuity of the players that embody the game in this region. From its humble origins to the dizzying heights of world rugby, the development of this beautiful game is a truly remarkable story. The first indication of the game being played was over half a century ago in the previous millennium.
The employees of the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), in need of recreation, created a desert clearing for cricket, known as the Magwa Oval in 1946. This changed to the Magwa Cricket Club a year later, then renamed the Kuwait Cricket Club before finally settling on Hubara Cricketers. The first reports of rugby in the Arabian Peninsula were in 1947 when British military personnel played KOC members in Kuwait. The Kuwait Scorpions rugby football club is one of the oldest clubs in the Gulf, and they are still around today and still very active.
By 1974, rugby clubs had also been established in the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah), Saudi Arabia (Dhahran), Qatar (Doha), Bahrain, and later in Muscat. In the same year, the GRFU (Gulf Rugby Football Union) was founded under the umbrella of the English RFU, along with a Referee’s Association.
The amended GRFU constitution of 1979 states the founder clubs as Abu Dhabi, Dubai Exiles, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah Wanderers (all in the UAE) - Bahrain Rugby Football Club, Doha Rugby Union Club, and Dhahran Rugby Football Union Club in Saudi Arabia. Bahrain held the post of Chair, Dubai that of Secretary, whilst other duties were farmed out between the other members. Meetings were often held during Dubai 7s and Muscat 7s tournaments, then later at the Sharjah Floodlit and Bahrain XVs.
Initially, many matches were played on sand (and rock) but today almost all are played on grass pitches.
A Gulf League was first established in the 1975/76 season, sponsored by the Gulf Mirror with teams playing for the Gulf Mirror Coffee Pot. Games were arranged on an ad hoc basis with very little opportunity of a return game. Dubai and Bahrain regularly played each other at home and away, as did Dubai and Sharjah. The League champions were often determined in an informal manner. The season’s victors were often decided upon by these head-to-head matches and any other games that teams were fortunate to play.
The GRFU Handbook of 1985 described “Dhahran as founded in 1974. Oldest club in Saudi Arabia and founder member of the GRFU League. Travel costs and immigration formalities dictated their withdrawal from the League in December 1984. Still play in GRFU Cup and most of the Gulf tournaments. Leaders in Saudi Arabian club rugby. Yet to win a major title in Gulf Rugby. Field only one team in Gulf competitions. Have toured Manila and Singapore.”
In 1989, the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) was subsequently formed with an emphasis on the Union being the Arabian Gulf and became a member of the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) (now known as World Rugby) in 1990. Through its regional development program, the AGRFU also helped facilitate the entry of Lebanon and Jordan into international rugby.
The AGRFU played in the Hong Kong 7s in 1992 and the Rugby World Cup 7s Qualifying Tournament in Catania, Sicily in 1993, its first representative international competition. This was followed by its first 'home' international against Kenya, held in Dubai, in 1995.
World Rugby's governance restructuring project for the West Asia region resulted in the AGRFU being broken up into separate unions for each member country. The UAE Rugby Federation was the first to be formed in 2009 and the UAE national team inherited the former Arabian Gulf team's world ranking.
Other national unions for Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were subsequently created. Sadly, Dhahran Rugby Football Union Club had withdrawn from the GRFU in the 1984/85 season. Today the sport in Saudi Arabia is licensed by the Saudi government and the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation is a member of Asia Rugby; its president Ali Aldajani (read more here). In November 2012, a national team consisting only of Saudi nationals entered the West Asia 7s competition in Dubai. They finished 3rd overall with Lebanon taking the title. In 2016, Saudi Arabia played against Jordan in their first World Rugby-recognized international game.
Although the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation has no recognized clubs in the kingdom, there are now currently 6 teams in Saudi Arabia:
- Jeddah Team (Scorpions)
- Riyadh Team (Scorpions, Falcons, Warriors)
- Khobar Team (Eagles)
- Yanbu Team (Legend)
As we know, Dhahran Rugby Union Football club had ceased playing by 1988/89 but early in the 90s interest in touch rugby was initiated and so those who wished to continue playing full contact rugby joined Khobar Eagles (KE). KE are based out of the BAE compound in Khobar, but accepts players living in the Eastern Province and plays regular games against Riyadh and Bahrain, competing at the Dubai 7s.
Rugby in Aramco
These articles are based on information provided by Andrew Bowes, President of Dhahran Touch Rugby Club; and Jesse M. Lapierre, President of Dhahran Youth Rugby Club and Committee Member of Grassroots and Youth, Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation.
Andrew Bowes tells me that:
Dhahran Touch Rugby (DTR) was established in the 90s as a Self-Directed Group (SDG) and is played on a dedicated touch rugby grass pitch within the Dhahran compound. The old sand rugby pitch on the Half Moon Road still existed until about 2015 but the rugby posts had been taken down. There has been an Aramco Touch team in Abqaiq, Ras Tanura is trying to establish one, and there are others in the Kingdom - Riyadh, KAUST / Yanbu and NEOM.
There are no intra-country games/tournaments yet, but the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation (SRF) is moving towards national affiliation of the Touch groups in the Kingdom. DTR do however play other Touch teams in the Gulf -, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai – and have put forward 2 men’s and 1 women’s team for the ME Touch Championships in 2014 and 2015; and the Corporate Touch 6s in Dubai between 2016 and 2019, winning the competition in 2017 and 2019. This allows a Mixed Team which they will be fielding again in March 2023.
The Club follows the International Touch Federation (Federation of International Touch) rules. Touch rugby leads to fewer injuries and allows men and women of all ages and experience levels to participate.
The Club currently has about 50 members, both male and female, aged between 12 to 62, with varying experience and skills, playing 2 times a week all year round. Nationalities include Aussies, Brits, Irish, Kiwis, Americans, Saudis, Canadians, French, South Africans, Pakistanis, and Indians, to name but a few. Games are mostly informal “pick up” style games, and teams are made up of whoever turns up. Six are on the field at any one time with at least 6 subs on the sideline. As touch is fast-paced, a big part of the game is being able to play/run hard for 5 minutes and then seamlessly sub off and allow a new player(s) to come on.
Jesse Lapierre tells me that:
The Adult Touch Rugby sparked an interest in a resurgence of the sport for children in 2018. Initially, it was formed under the aegis of DTR, but an SDG Dhahran Youth Rugby Club (DYRC) was formed in 2021. In 2022, Aramco Recreation dedicated an R-Section Field for Rugby, and 11M rugby posts, with Aramco-branded pads and flags to be installed in April 2023. Ras Tanura has also formed a team. The pitch is shared between the two Clubs, Adults during the week and Youth mostly on Saturday afternoons.
Team colours are royal blue and gold, based on Aramco's logo colour scheme, but the gold is also a nod to the team's name, Bolts, for their lightning-quick play on the pitch. Volunteers and families are working hard to promote the sport.
Members have swelled from about 12 hearty young souls to over 100 players, ranging in age from 4 years old to 14 years old, and graduates go on to join the Adult Touch Rugby team. Currently, the team plays regularly between Riyadh and Bahrain, and is looking to add a full contact section to compete across the Gulf with the permission of Recreation.
In November 2021, the Club won the Under 6 and Under 8 age brackets in Riyadh; and 4 different age brackets, from youngest to oldest respectively in Bahrain in December 2022. The sport was also a highlighted sport in the first Aramco Community Championships in Dhahran.
Youth rugby remains a second or third choice for many children due to the popularity of other sports on camp like Baseball, Football, and Swimming. However, with continued diligence and recent integration with the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation, the team has high hopes to grow the sport across the Eastern Province.
Part 10 marks the end of the serialisation of the Unofficial History of Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC) 1973 – 1989. I would like to thank all the contributors to the original booklet who gave permission for their contributions, both original and redacted, to be reprinted; and to Andrew Bowes and Jesse Lapierre who have brought us up to date.
Thanks also to those who contributed photographs and archive material, among them Graham Vizor, Richard Thom, Carolyn Coles, Lesley Williams, Tim Akert, Carol Bailey, Jesse Lapierre, Andrew Bowes, and Mark Makhoul. Other sources have been acknowledged within the serialisation.
Finally, a huge thanks to Kara Swayne of AramcoExpats who has done a tremendous job breaking up the booklet into bite-sized parts and has persevered with me.
It is fitting that in what would have been the 50th anniversary of Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club that the Youth Rugby Club would like to celebrate with a custom t-shirt to hand out during future events. If you would like to help the Club with a donation, please contact the President of the Club: email@example.com.
About The Author
Arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1976 was like coming home, as Richard had been brought up in Kuwait as an “oilbrat” during the 1950s and 60s where his dad was Chief Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Co. As a Chartered Accountant, Richard worked for Aramco in both Internal Audit and Contract Cost Compliance, but despite his father’s prowess as a golfer and his mother as a tennis player (Persian Gulf Oil Companies Lawn Tennis Association Ladies Champion in 1956), his social life gravitated to the Dhahran Rugby Club and amateur dramatics. He used his organising skills to become a representative on the Aramco Employees Association, Treasurer for DRUFC between 1976/77 and 1978/79, and then Chairman in 1979/80 before leaving in 1980. He continued with a varied finance career in shipping (Japan) automobiles (Guam) and dance education (UK).
Finally retiring in 2015, Richard and his husband live in London and he has used his time not only to continue travelling, but also to write Dance into Business for dance students wanting to start a business.
About this Article
The Unofficial History was produced to mark what would have been the approximate 50th Anniversary of the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC) 1972- 2022, depending on what year you believe the club to have been established.
The Editor: Richard Thom first started playing rugby as a young boy in Scotland playing for the 1st XV at prep school, and then the Colts and 1st XV at Strathallan. He rediscovered rugby in Saudi Arabia, and not only played for the 1st and 2nd XVs on the wing but helped to keep the Club on track as Treasurer and Chairman. Moving to Japan after Saudi, Richard continued to play for the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC) as second row for the 2nd XV, a far cry from the wing in Saudi.
Coming back to the UK in the mid-80s, it was the camaraderie among those in the club who played, supported or just joined in that helped to bond us all together to meet regularly and to mark the occasion with a "Not the May Ball," the third for which this booklet was produced.
- John Bailey 1975 - 1980
- Mike Galbraith 1971
- John Kates 1973 - 1975
- Bill Flynn 1973 - 1975
- Martin Watson 1974 – 1977
- Stan Peters 1974 – 1978
- Mike Sullivan 1978 - 1984
- Graham Vizor 1977 – 2007
- Carolyn Coles 1977 - 1985
- Lesley Williams 1979 - 1986