Dubai Dingoes president tells us about Aussie Rules Football in Dubai
Australians. They get everywhere. And wherever Aussies go, sport is bound to follow. However, of all the team sports played in Dubai, the Australian national sport, Aussie Rules (or Australian Rules Football, to use the correct terminology) is ominously low-key. This is quite a surprise considering the sizeable number of Australian expats here in Dubai, but according to Philip Temple, Operations Manager for the Middle East Australian Football Federation and President of Dubai Dingoes, the sport struggles owing to lack of funds.
Back in Since rugby and soccer are better recognised international sports, they arguably have a wider appeal to Dubai’s diverse sporting community and thus benefit from the support of corporate sponsors and schools (which provide facilities), enabling clubs to pay for increasingly expensive pitch fees.
‘If we want a game of footie, it costs us Dhs2,000 to hire a pitch for an hour and a half,’ says Phillip. ‘It’s expensive, and all our games are international – we’re going to Oman, Bahrain, Qatar [to play in the Gulf League] – so we [also have to] get flights and because there are around 15 people in a squad, it’s about 10 grand a game.’
These exorbitant costs, combined with the players’ work and family commitments mean that Dubai Dingoes – the oldest of the three UAE-based teams – train just once a week at Za’abeel Park and play games once a month.
Back in the day, when the Dingoes played at the old Exiles ground, where they shared the facilities with rugby and Gaelic teams, recruitment used to be far easier, simply because people could see what Aussie Rules was all about. ‘The guys playing rugby, they’d see us and come across and join to play both,’ says Philip. ‘That’s the same as [the situation in] Abu Dhabi – they [the Falcons] share the same ground [as the Gaelic team] and have picked up a lot of Gaelic players.’
In spite of these difficulties, Philip says that there has been a steady growth of interest in the sport, largely owing to Gaelic and rugby players keen to expand their sporting repertoire. It helps that Aussie Rules incorporates aspects of rugby, Gaelic and soccer, making the initial transition a fairly easy one. The only problem is that a few of the more complex rules are a little more tricky to grasp, though Philip says this is something for him and the referees to worry about. One aspect of the game that rugby and Gaelic players do struggle with, however, is tackling from behind: ‘They don’t see it coming and they think they’re fine and the next thing is that they get flattened.’
The Dingoes are currently gearing up for the Gulf Grand Final, where the top two teams in the league will play on March 25 at Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Before then, however, the Dubai team need to beat Doha on March 18 to claim their place in the finals where they’ll face the Abu Dhabi Falcons.
Philip is clearly relishing the season’s exciting climax: ‘The top team is Abu Dhabi Falcons – they’ve already qualified, but there are three teams to qualify for second place in the final [a place in the finals] – Dingoes, Doha Kangaroos or Muscat Magpies. If Dingoes beat Doha, we get to play in the final. If Doha win and manage to increase their percentage by three or four points they will go into the final. But if they beat us by only a small margin, Muscat will go into the final. It’s a great way to finish the season, but Abu Dhabi is the team to beat.’
Unlike the official, 18-a-side version of the game, Aussie Rules here is nine-a-side and played on a rugby pitch (as opposed to a field the same size as a cricket pitch). The rules have been altered accordingly – you have to be in a certain zone to kick goals, and there are nine subs as opposed to three – but Philip maintains that it’s still a great deal of fun.
This, Philip says, makes for a very different, very fast game, where everyone is involved: ‘It’s only two kicks from one end of the pitch to another. And we change the scoring a little – you have to be in a certain zone to kick goals, you can’t kick from 60-70m out otherwise it just spoils it. When it’s hot you can be on that pitch three or four times, so you keep it fast and it really comes down to fitness.’
The fitness aspect is one of the draws of Aussie Rules – a typical session involves 20-25 minutes with Nigel Prasad, the Dingoes assistant coach, who also runs Streetwise bootcamp, followed by light running, kicking and contact towards the end of the night.
‘We take anyone,’ concludes Philip. Even if you’re 55 and want a light run around then this if for you. Aussie Rules is a bit of everything stuck together with some strange rules.’ He said it.