Abu Dhabi neighbours Harlequins and Saracens could become even closer this season with the possibility of a groundshare at the city’s national cricket stadium suggested.
Abu Dhabi Cricket (ADC) acting CEO Matt Boucher has floated the idea with both sides facing issues with their current pitches.
The future of Sarries’ home games next season was thrown into jeopardy when Al Ghazal Golf Club was closed at the beginning of the month. Quins, meanwhile, are also thought to be weighing up the idea of switching homes due to rising costs at Zayed Sports City – with pitch hire costs exceeding Dh700,000 last season.
Sheikh Zayed Stadium – which hosts UAE and Pakistan international cricket – was handed over to the Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) in March and Boucher admits the organisation is open to the idea of hosting both Sarries and Quins matches in the future
“We’re fully supportive of Harlequins and Saracens and the brilliant job they’ve done for rugby in Abu Dhabi so if they wanted to come to us or if there’s an opportunity to come then we’d be open to discussions,” said Boucher of a facility that aims to become more all-encompassing for sport in the capital.
As part of the redevelopment of the Khalifa City-based stadium, two FIFA standard football pitches are being built on land outside the stadium, which will be used as training pitches for teams attending December’s FIFA Club World Cup – including Spanish giants Real Madrid.
“At the moment we’re thinking of them as just football pitches, not rugby-based solutions for Harlequins and Saracens, but of course we’re in contact with them.
“We know from the media reports and talking to them they have availability. We will continue to talk to them and we have done a deal with Sarries for them to train on the premier ovals throughout the summer.
“We don’t have plans as yet for a third or fourth pitch or a designated rugby pitch at the moment but I don’t think that’s too far away. Once we start evaluating that cost and if we have some commitment to the costs from clubs to come to Abu Dhabi Cricket, then we can look at that.”
Boucher admits both ADC and the ADSC have been in contact with the capital’s two clubs and although neither club are likely to start the season using the Sheikh Zayed Stadium facility as their own, that could quickly change, with the pitches likely to be ready by September or October.
He added: “Not yet. There are plans to build more facilities, not a rugby specific pitch and currently nothing is contractually signed for them to be here, but we’re keen to keep the door open for them, and any other clubs.
“We have some football clubs contractually signed for September and if we can build a commercial relationship with them for a year, two or three years then we’ll definitely present that to the board.
“I haven’t spoken to Quins personally but our team has. I don’t know whether they’ve signed up again to Zayed Sports City, there’s a long term relationship there. We haven’t signed any agreement but nothing’s off the table, let’s put it that way.”
The UAE will also host the 2019 Asian Cup and Boucher admits a multi-sport facility has long been in the pipeline, although he denied that the cricket stadium facility would act as direct competition to Abu Dhabi’s premier sports facility, Zayed Sports City.
“We’re great friends of Zayed Sports City,” added Boucher of Quins’ home for the last seven years.
“Our new headquarters are there so it’s not a competitive facility. They’ve done a great job with their pitches and they’re full. If there is going to be some overflow and we can fill that capacity then we’ll welcome the opportunity with open arms.
“One of the main sports council mandates is to get people fit and healthy and off their sofas and playing sport. You see this throughout a number of areas.
“We were handed the day to day management in March from the previous administration. They did a great job before but it was very cricket focused.
“Now we have two football pitches, floodlights going on the ovals. We’re looking at five-aside football, changing the academy, bringing in more nets.
“It might sound a bit like a press-release but we’re trying to create a world-class sporting hub for multi-sports and something that’s not overpriced. It’s a fantastic facility and as Khalifa City grows I think this will become more of a hotspot.”
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