UAE ‘code war’ begins to calm but RL still frustrated

The situation regarding rugby league in the United Arab Emirates appears to be reaching some kind of resolution, after the controversies of recent weeks.

It still looks unlikely that the nascent rugby league body in the country will be able to complete their season, however.

UAE newspaper The National reports that the UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) is meeting on May 20 to officially endorse a new committee which will oversee rugby league in the country.

Currently, rugby league is suspended in the UAE, after Sol Mokdad, the president of the local rugby league commission, was arrested and detained by police last week.

The UAERF, as the government-appointed rulers of what they thought was all ‘rugby’, had acted against him for “falsely representing the UAE government and rugby in the UAE”.

The appointment of such a committee appears to currently be the only way that rugby league can be played in the UAE.

It does, of course, raise questions of sovereignty in the sport, and completely ignores the fact that our game is sport in its own right, not some sub-code of the 15-man game.

The Rugby League International Federation is working to resolve the situation, but is clearly concerned about rugby union’s influence on our sport in the region.

“Both World Rugby and RLIF recognise that the sports of Rugby Union and Rugby League are led by sovereign International Federations and neither has any jurisdiction over the other sport,” said David Collier, the RLIF chief executive on Sunday.

World Rugby, the board which control rugby union worldwide, is understood to be reluctant to comment officially, but is also apparently involved in the discussions to find a solution.

It would seem that a few history lessons are needed in certain quarters when it comes to the separate identities of the two codes.

James Agus is the coach of Xodus Wasps. His team were preparing to play for a place in the rugby league final when the league was suspended.

He and his players are disappointed and frustrated with the situation.

“The lads are gutted it ended so quickly. We do believe we could have gone on and won it,” he said.

“I hope it does get resolved quickly and league will be back next year.”

Andy Cole, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Harlequins, another of the clubs who play both league and union, believes that the controversy could harm both codes.

“The UAERF were correct in doing what they did, although the extent it reached, I don’t think, was in keeping with the spirit of the sport,” Cole said.

Mike Wolff, the chairman of Dubai’s oldest club, the Exiles, was also surprised that the situation had come to such a storm.

“I am surprised and concerned that matters have reached the point they have, and I hope world opinion does not turn negative towards any form of rugby in this great country as a consequence,” he said.

“I am sure dialogue between all stakeholders and agreeing mutually beneficial objectives will see a resolution to this issue, and allow people to get on with playing their chosen form of rugby with good governance in place.”

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