Rugby league coach Sol Mokdad, who was arrested in the UAE in 2015 following a dispute over his promotion of rugby league in Dubai, is not happy that the England squad will be visiting the Middle Eastern country in January.
England coach Wayne Bennett plans to take 18 players away to Dubai, which is a country where rugby league is basically illegal.
Any rugby league games or development must now take place under the aegis and control of the local rugby union governing bodies in the UAE.
Mokdad’s fury was first triggered several months ago, however, when he read news that the possibility of staging a rugby league international tournament in Dubai, featuring England, was being discussed.
“Regarding the RFL sending the England Rugby League National Team for a training camp or international tournament to Dubai in January 2017, I read an article from the 7DAYS UAE Newspaper back in June, and I just shook my head,” he told Love Rugby League.
“To be honest, when I first read the article in June, my initial reaction was ‘Why now!?’, then a whole stream of (excuse my french), ‘WTF!?’
“From 2007 to 2015, the lifetime of UAE Rugby League, I was always trying to get an international rugby league tournament hosted in Dubai, but it never materialised.
“The closest I got was a ‘Letter of Intent’ from the New Zealand Warriors; however, I could not make it happen because I could not accommodate their financial requests.
“Ultimately, the deal fell through due to the introduction of the Auckland 9s and the busy period around that time of year.
“I always advocated that the United Arab Emirates is an ideal location for rugby league development and international expansion, and I am still convinced that the Rugby League International Federation should pursue acquiring government recognition from the UAE General Authority of Youth & Sports (UAERF) for an independent rugby league body.
“The geographical location, the large expatriate community, along with the purchasing power they possess, make the UAE an intelligent business decision to host an international rugby league tournament.
“Ultimately, the blame is on the Rugby League International Federation.
“If the RLIF believe that the UAE is an integral part of international development and revenue generation, they should exhaust all resources to ensure the General Authority of Youth & Sport comply with their governance.
“In conclusion, it is obvious that the NRL and the RFL are the real powers behind our sport, which is the achilles heel of rugby league expansion.”
Mokdad is further angered by the way in which the governing body of a sport like rugby league, which had to contend with bigotry and bias from rugby union throughout so much of its history, should be in talks with UAE rugby union authorities.
“Lets put my arrest aside and break down the talks into simple points which will make absolutely no sense,” Mokdad added.
“When the RFL entered talks with the UAERF, I believe they validated the UAERF’s view on the independence of our sport.
“The Rugby Football League was in talks with the UAE Rugby Federation, the governing body of the sport of rugby union in the UAE, which was founded in 2009, publicly outlawed rugby league as an independent sport, and believes that it should govern the sport of rugby league, for permission to host a rugby league tournament in the UAE!”
Mokdad continues to coach rugby league in Lebanon, and also, perhaps surprisingly, coaches rugby union.
He is not bitter towards rugby union but rather towards the rugby league authorities who, in his eyes, continue to ignore the work done by pioneers such as himself.
“Right now, I am coaching rugby league to men and women in Lebanon,” he said.
“I am no longer involved in the expansion, development, or growth of the sport in new territories. I am not anti-rugby union, and during my stay in Dubai I played rugby union the entire time.
“I also recently helped coach a Beirut Ladies team that traveled to the 2016 Dubai Rugby Sevens, only because with the limited opportunities available to my women’s rugby league team, that was the only viable option.
“However, I am always passionate about rugby league development and it is always my number one priority even though the intertwining of both sports in developing regions is inevitable.
“I might be called a hypocrite; however, I still do not blame the sport of rugby union, nor the government or the people of the UAE for my arrest.
“I spent a wonderful nine years in the UAE and have made a lifetime of memories and friends during my stay there.
“I respect the country and all the effort they put into making the UAE a great nation.
“The UAE should be a destination for international rugby league, but not at the expense of the years of struggle endured by the people of rugby league.”