Thousands of young rugby stars in action at the Abu Dhabi Youth Tournament

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Thousands of young rugby players will invade Abu Dhabi this weekend for a community sports festival.

The Harlequins Junior Rugby Tournament, taking place at the capital’s Zayed Sports City, will host over 2,800 players aged between 5 and 18, for two days of exciting entertainment on Saturday and Sunday.

The highly anticipated event was organized by Abu Dhabi Harlequins, one of the oldest clubs in the emirate, with the help of a small army of passionate volunteers.

Hundreds of helpers, many of them parents of players, will act as coaches, team leaders, grounds marshals and doctors to ensure the festivities run smoothly.

“The work behind organizing a tournament like this is enormous. There are 500 volunteers, mostly parents, who step in and help organize the tournament. It’s a real community event,” said Candice Woodhead, Harlequins junior team manager and volunteer herself. The National.

A total of 217 rugby teams representing 12 clubs across the UAE will take part, all relishing the opportunity to show off their skills after previous events were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

United by the love of the game

“Many volunteer coaches have been coaching players without any pay for years. It’s a community united by a love of rugby,” said Ms Woodhead, whose husband Angus Woodhead is the club’s chairman.

His two children, Harrison and Bella, also play in the U16 boys and U18 girls categories respectively.

An Australian who moved to the United Arab Emirates 12 years ago, Ms Woodhead said the club, run entirely with the help of volunteers, is one big rugby family.

“We have been involved with the club since our children were five years old. It’s a great community to play rugby in the Middle East. We are so lucky to be part of it.

Established in 1970, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, also known as the Quins, are a key part of the community with over 1,000 active members ranging from age 4 to veterans, including all level women’s teams. U13, U15 and U18. The club has a junior and senior section, for girls and boys.

For rugby fans and children who want to play sports outside of school, the Quins provide an affordable platform, Ms Woodhead said.

“Children pay Dh2,000 to Dh2,500 as an annual fee for the season. And that comes with free training, kit, insurance and access to weekly matches.

“It’s great to be back”

The well-established rugby club has a variety of men's and women's teams covering several age brackets.  Photo: Harlequins Abu Dhabi

Radwa Allabban, a longtime resident of Abu Dhabi and mother of three boys playing in the Quins’ U13, U9 and U6 teams, is looking forward to Saturday’s big kick-off.

“After a long hiatus, it’s wonderful that kids can finally play and compete again after the pandemic.

“In the upcoming tournament, I am volunteering to support a small army of parents, who are doing their utmost to organize a brilliant and fun experience for our children and other junior rugby teams joining Quins from all over the United Arab Emirates. .”

Garry Haynes, an aeronautical engineer with Etihad Airways, is a parent who also volunteers as Quins’ head coach; under 13 team.

“There were many, many children and a few coaches. I have an affinity for children and decided to get involved,” said Mr Haynes The National.

His two boys, aged 12 and 14, also play for the club.

After work, he finds time to go to the field and coach the kids for an hour, twice a week on Monday and Friday.

Similarly, Canadian couple Jason and Jen Kennedy, who moved to Abu Dhabi in December last year from Qatar, say they found an “instant community” with the Quins.

The couple have three daughters aged 7, 10 and 12, all of whom play for Harlequins.

He is the head coach of the women’s under-13 team and his wife Jen is the team manager.

“It’s a warm and welcoming family that provides a great opportunity for sports, especially for the girls,” said Kennedy, who works in the oil and gas industry as an operations manager.

“Playing rugby is important to them. But it also helps them learn team spirit and the meaning of growing up in a community.

Updated: November 05, 2022, 03:00

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