Lebanon and Serbia have become Full Members of the Rugby League European Federation following their Annual General Meeting.
RLEF chairman Richard Lewis commented, “The sustained growth and progress of both Lebanon and Serbia rugby league reflects very well indeed on all those people who have worked so hard to develop the sport in those countries, sometimes against a difficult backdrop. I am delighted that both countries are now Full Members of the RLEF.”
He continued, “The progress made is also testament to the strategy being followed by the RLEF. It is vital we assist in countries having a solid participation base as well as a stable international tournament calendar.”
Both federations have trodden a similar development pathway. Lebanon, initially introduced to the game by Sydney’s expatriate community in the late 1990s, began its domestic rugby league project in March 2002.
Following the initial success of Yugoslavian rugby league in the 1950s, the modern-day Serbian rugby league began in November 2001. Both were founder Members of the RLEF in January 2003.
Danny Kazandjian, RLEF General Manager added, “Both the Lebanese and Serbian federations have always conducted themselves in an exemplary manner and have shown an inspirational ability to expand their operations in sometimes quite trying circumstances.”
“Their elevation to Full Membership is a historic advance for the game, marking as it does the first time that nations from non-traditional rugby countries have achieved this mark. I have no doubt that both will continue to grow apace and lead the further expansion of rugby league in their respective regions and I congratulate both federations.”
Lebanon led on the creation of the MENA Championships, which run at U14, U16 and senior, hosting five of six tournaments and has toured UAE, Qatar and Morocco; Serbia has played in the European Shield three times, hosted two European youth championships, and has independently toured Germany and Hungary.
Mo Habbous, Lebanon RLF president said, “The LRLF is very excited by the news that it’s application for full membership has been approved. We are proud that all our hard work and development has paid off. This wouldn’t be possible without the dedication to the sport from our players, coaches, sponsors, and board members. ”
Serbia played its first official international match in Lebanon, in the 2003 Mediterranean Cup against France. They faced Lebanon in the same competition – the first of five official matches between the two nation’s representative sides to date.
Serbian RL President Nebojsa Sretenovic commented, “Serbia reaching full membership status is a dream come true for everyone involved in the game at home. There are no doubts that this is the biggest moment in the history of the sport in our country and we are happy that this recognition came in the year we celebrate tenth anniversary of re-establishment of rugby league in Serbia. This obliges us to continue to raise standards and we know that more exciting times are yet to come.”
“We were always committed to development of the sport and, as a non-traditional country elevated to full member level together with our fellows from Lebanon, we are ready to be the both example and leaders for other countries trying to achieve higher status.”
Domestically, both nations operate with tiered senior championships – Lebanon has a club championship and a second grade competition, based around universities – and expanding youth operations. Serbia has a first and second division club championship and a university competition and Serbia first fielded a youth representative side in 2006, Lebanon in 2009.
Strategically, both federations have assumed a vital leadership role in Central Europe and the Middle East. Both have focused on playing their neighbouring countries, according to the RLEF’s “cluster” system and have demonstrated the capacity to stimulate growth.
A record number of nations, 21, attended the RLEF AGM and conference, with key note speakers from the EU Sport Unit, UK Sport International Development and Bartlett’s insurance brokers.