Despite the obstacles, which has seen some MENA (Middle East North Africa) age-group tournaments again postponed, there is evidence of rugby league’s growing popularity in the region, with open age activity scheduled for 2014, in addition to U20, U18, U16 and U14s.
“The game is still flourishing in its stronghold of Jeddah, with the number of schools, coaches and players increasing,” reported Saudi Arabian Rugby League Association president Dave Kinkead. “A second major city playing regular rugby league would be a massive boon as would the Saudi government’s full support, which currently only covers a handful of sports.”
Six schools play the sport in Jeddah – there were three in 2008 – and SARLA had assembled a 40-strong U18 Saudi Select squad for the now cancelled MENA U18 Championship in Beirut, which was scheduled for this month. Kinkead continued: “The majority of parents are unwilling to let their children travel within the region with the exception of a few countries. We have been restricted to warm up games against local open age opposition.”
The same concerns have cost March’s U16 tournament although the Lebanese Rugby League Federation is exploring the possibility of moving tournaments to the UAE.
The fledgling Egyptian operation has also been hit by the region’s ongoing political strife with a Cairo U14 selection, drawn from three schools, cancelling its scheduled trip to Lebanon for May’s MENA Championship at that age group.
Regional Director Remond Safi commented: “Although the region is facing instability it is good to see that some of the MENA nations are increasing activity and others are still attempting to manoeuvre around to get fixtures completed.”
The Saudis also plan to run a first open age event, with a five team 9s competition pencilled in for June or July.
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