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.
UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF), the sole recognised National Governing Body (NGB) of the sport of Rugby in the UAE, has taken action against Sol Mokdad for what they claim is an unauthorised representation of the UAE sovereignty by illegally claiming the title of President.
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Mokdad was arrested on Wednesday (May 6) and the league was suspended.
The formation of the ‘UAE Rugby League’ is believed to be have wrongly claimed the oversight and management of a sporting body which is not registered or recognised by the relevant government authority – the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare (GAYSW), in the UAE.
Only Emiratis can hold a governmental position at any NGB and the UAE Rugby Federation is the sole official governing body for any code of the game within UAE’s jurisdiction.
This includes Rugby Union, League, Touch and any other form of the game and the representation of the UAE at any regional or international meet.
“Mohammed Falaknaz is the only recognised and endorsed Chairman of UAE Rugby, and the UAE Rugby Federation is the sole body recognised by the governing authority to represent all forms of the game in the UAE,” said Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby Federation’s Secretary General. “Rugby League is an important code in the game of Rugby and we fully support League being played in the UAE.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) April 28, 2015
An official UAE RF statement claims that Mokdad has was issued with warnings by the federation “to cease falsely representing the UAE Government and Rugby in the UAE”, but “continued to falsely claim the title of President to represent and to manage an unrecognised sporting body.”
“I’m rather shocked that regional/international bodies, like the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF), have accepted an illegitimate individual membership who doesn’t even have citizenship of the UAE, nor hold a government license/decree that allows this individual to carry on any rugby activity within the UAE jurisdiction,” added Al Dhalai.
“From a governance perspective, the RLIF and RLEF, being official regional and international bodies, should have in the first instance requested from any country’s sports authority an attested copy of the domestic decree of formation, or in the least the relevant license prior to accepting any membership either as an observer, affiliate or full member.
“I even wonder on what basis did these bodies process and approve the UAE as an observer or affiliate member without even validating the integrity of the individual/s who claim Presidency of UAE Rugby League or any other form of rugby.”
Previous tweet about ACTUAL man in ACTUAL prison cell in UAE merely for organising rugby league games. If that doesn’t anger you, what will?
— Tony Hannan (@tonehannan) May 9, 2015
The GAYSW were advised of these actions by the UAERF and, in raising the matter, expressed “deep concern on what is considered, under UAE Law, an illegal activity being conducted without consent and without following the necessary procedures and protocols.”
The statement goes on to assert that during the Dubai police investigations it was discovered that Mokdad had been living in the country without citizenship in breach of the country’s residency and immigration laws. The UAE immigration department is filing a separate case as a result.
“Instead of the RLEF/RLIF enquiring as to why Mokdad was detained by the local authority it should have ensured prior to accepting the UAE as an observer member that this individual is the official UAE Rugby League representative, not desperately accepting any membership without fulfilling the appropriate governmental protocols and, even worse, ranking the UAE 29th on the RLEF official website,” said Al Dhalai.
“All of these actions are not within the sports charter and it only shows lack of procedures on accepting countries memberships.”
UAE coach Roelof Kotze looks ahead to the Asia Rugby Championship and believes his side have what it takes to beat Thailand, Chinese Taipei and hosts Malaysia and earn promotion to Division 1.