It all started so innocently. All rugby league enthusiast Sol Mokdad wanted to do was promote the sport he loved and see it grow in the UAE. Enthusiasm turned to action and saw rugby league eventually established in the Emirates.
Mokdad, in the UAE since 2007, has seen many ups and downs, not least trying to establish league in the shadow of big brother, rugby union.
There has been progress for the younger sibling. The UAE Falcons played their first international against Lebanon in 2008. The inaugural rugby league season was played in 2013 but the 2014 calendar was empty as organisers were unable to attract a sponsor.
This year started on a high with a raft of sponsors attracted, chief among them Nissan Middle East who put their name to the Nissan Rugby League Cup.
On the season’s opening day, barely a month ago, the questions on league fans’ lips were whether reigning champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins could hold onto their title, how would debutants Dubai Sharks fare and could a raft of former Super League stars inspire Xodus Wasps to glory.
This weekend’s Grand Final, however, is now destined to go unplayed, and the only question left is will we ever see rugby league in the UAE again?
— Qais A. Al Dhalai (@QaisUAE) May 11, 2015
After being forced into a rebrand, renaming itself the Rugby League Commission and dropping ‘UAE’ from its title following threats of legal action a few weeks ago, things have gone from bad to worse. Mokdad was arrested on Wednesday, the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare taking action for his “unauthorised representation of the UAE sovereignty by illegally claiming the title of President”, as well as “overseeing and managing a sporting body which is not registered with and not recognised by the relevant government authority”.
Additionally, Mokdad, of New Zealand and Lebanese origin, could now face deportation once he is released, deemed to be living in the UAE illegally. You can’t fault Mokdad’s passion, but it looks like that enthusiasm that has now landed him in trouble.
These are boom days for sport in the UAE and Mokdad, at least had the right idea. He appears to have come to a country that has already established itself as a true sporting hub, with good intentions.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi have a growing reputation for sporting excellence. Yas Marina Circuit set a new benchmark for Formula One circuits, the Dubai Sevens, first held in 1970, is now world-famous and the Dubai World Cup, held first in 1996, is the planet’s richest horserace. Add to that golf’s Dubai Desert Classic, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, as well as iconic tennis events like the Dubai Duty Free and Mubadala World Tennis Championships and you can see why Mokdad thought there was a future here for his chosen sport.
Maybe it was naivety, but what Mokdad should have understood is that one of the reasons sport has been so successful here is that it is controlled effectively by the appropriate authorities. It is only right that anyone trying to establish a something new in the UAE should work with them and within their rules otherwise chaos reigns. Done properly Mokdad might have been rejoicing rather than regretting. Instead, rugby league now faces an uncertain future in the UAE and the biggest loser in all of this is sport itself.
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