The intervention of MEP Brian Simpson helped to prevent a major incident after the touring Lebanon Espoirs were prevented from entering the Berrechid municipal stadium to play a Morocco XIII.
The Moroccan rugby league – which Remond Safi, the Rugby League European Federation’s MENA Regional Director, has been heavily involved in forming over the past 18 months – were informed at 5.30pm the day before the scheduled match that permission to use the ground had been rescinded.
Directeur des Sports Saïd Boukhari issued the order to the Basha of Berrechid province, Ahmed Akerdousse and local sports ministry representative Ahmed Bamou.
The following day a Moroccan rugby league delegation consisting of association president Mostafa Jedoual, the presidents of the Arrabiata and Guelmin clubs, MRL secretary Driss Aamoud as well as Safi visited the sports ministry where, despite initial obstructions, they were granted a hearing from Boukhari, Samer Haama, the Manager of Higher Level Sports, Mohamed Moutach, National Teams Administration Manager, Mr El Raji, Manager of National Teams, and Mr El Hauji, the President of General Sports.
Safi duly explained the need for an independent rugby league federation before matters intriguingly took a further twist when a phone call from Simpson to Boukhari seemingly prompted an immediate softening in attitudes and sudden permission to allow the game to go ahead – only using the local club name rather than the kingdom’s.
“Despite all the political events that took place it was good to see the Moroccans and Lebanese uniting for their right to play rugby league,” said Safi. “It was clear to me that there was a hidden agenda behind the Moroccan government’s actions.”
The Moroccan clubs have been invited back to Rabat to discuss rugby league’s official status, with the government apparently unaware that separate rugby federations are commonplace throughout the world. The RLEF and European Parliament will support the bid to obtain an independent federation.
The training match finally went ahead, in the presence of Berrechid council vice president Ziad el Kahr and other officials. The Moroccan team, comprised of players selected from Berrechid, Berrechid Lions, Arrabiata and Rabatohs RLFC, performed admirably, scoring four tries to the Espoir’s six.
“It was remarkable to see their improvement from a year ago,” Safi commented. “There has been a lot of activity in forming new clubs and in the preparation of players; we can see the new breed emerging as the first generation of born and bred Moroccan rugby league players.“
Earlier in the week Safi held meetings with representatives of the six clubs and observed the signing of a constitution and the election of the new board.
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