Date: 22/3/17

The RLEF’s Middle East Africa region has reported an encouraging rise in the level of interest in rugby league over the last few months. Remond Safi, MEA regional director, is in contact with a record number of nations who are either actively or seeking to get involved with the sport.

“Africa has seen a spike in activity and has the potential to register a high number of affiliated nations over the coming years,” says Safi. “The continent has a good track record of producing great athletes who take to our sport well. I’ve seen it not only in Africa but recently in Australia through the Africa United team.”

“The nations all face the same issues,” continues Safi, who is based in Beirut but has visited Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE and Ethiopia recently. “Either lack of finances and/or government recognition, which means limited facilities to play the sport. The RLEF is in the process of applying for several grants for the region to give many of these nations the basic tools to develop the sport.”

He is hopeful that the Rugby League Federation of Ghana will consolidate after four years establishment and begin a process of organic growth. Safi is working with interested parties there and in the UK, to develop a five-year cycle of university twinning which will give RLFG a regular supply of British expertise to build up the sport’s culture among its advocates and help achieve sustainability.

In Sierra Leone, five schools are regularly playing rugby league led by development manager Magnus O’Reilly Campbell. Like RLFG, the Sierra Leonean Rugby League Federation has government recognition but is starved of resources.

“One of the grant applications I’m writing centres around technical education,” notes Safi. “We send packages of rugby balls to various countries but that’s not enough. We need to be able to provide the technical leaders, such as we have in Ghana and Sierra Leone, with high quality game education and the capacity to mentor the locals. We have the system but we need to pay for it through donor agencies such as Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

There are fresh opportunities in the Francophone world, too, with the addition of Burundi to rugby league’s ranks last year and the Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo rugby leagues, which are taking their formative steps.

The French government’s foreign aid budget can potentially support MEA’s aims. In Cameroon, the local leadership has met with the government regarding accreditation and is preparing its Observer membership application, as is the DRC.

French Federation de Rugby a Treize secretary Valerie Dumontet works for the European Union and has discussed opportunities for cooperation with Safi in Lebanon and whilst the existing Federation Marocaine de Rugby League is dormant, he is in talks with potential new nations Libya and Tunisia.

The former is preparing an Observer application and in Tunisia a group of French rugby league advocates are intent on beginning development work and have been introduced to the Ministry of Youth and Sport there.

In East Africa, Safi has been dealing with several interested parties in Kenya, although in Ethiopia initial activity in one of the country’s leading schools lessened following the departure of a key staff member, but the project’s instigators are organising elections to appoint new administrators.

“It is very important that, somehow, we are able to support these new organisations with the basic tools so our sport can take a hold,” concludes Safi.

Although no longer an RLEF member, South African Rugby League still collaborates closely with him as their interests are aligned with the MEA. SARL recently appointed a new CEO and officially welcomed the Cape Town region to its organisational structure.

Safi was successful in obtaining a A$10k grant application from the Australian government to aid SARL’s youth development and it is programmes such as these that offer hope to resource-hungry leagueites in the region.