Whilst the national team prepare for Saturday’s match against England, a quartet of domestic coaches and match officials from Lebanon are on an equally important mission in Sydney, attending a series of courses to augment their knowledge and experience.
Thanks to a A$30,000 grant from the Australian government’s Council of Arab-Australian Relations, the Lebanese Rugby League Federation has sent four trainee educators – Wissam Chami, Gaby Haddad, Lara Saba and Jad Esseilly – to the ‘LRLF-NRL Rugby League Education Program.’ All are graduates of the LRLF’s domestic technical development system.
“I’ve been involved with Lebanese rugby league since 2006 during my first year in university,” said Haddad, who, along with Chami, is responsible for the future of Lebanese coach education, having first become qualified in 2010. “In 2007 I joined ‘Club Libanais’ which was the first rugby league club in the country besides the universities.”
Like Haddad and Chami, Esseily, who was appointed LRLF match official coordinator last year, started playing at university, with AUST and then Balamand. Saba, one of three women referees in Lebanon rugby league, gravitated towards the sport solely to pursue her interest in officiating.
“It was a new sport for all of us and I loved it,” noted Chami, who now coaches a college side. “In Lebanon, rugby league is still undermined as a sport because we don’t have enough facilities. We have been working for years to create a stronger base of Lebanon-based players – that is our goal.”
All four believe that the spotlight on the World Cup, and the nation’s first-ever win at the tournament over France last weekend, can only help the sport grow back home, with greater visibility helping to attract more players and public support from the crucial ministries of education, and youth and sport.
“In Lebanon’s rugby league community all eyes are now on the national team,” said Esseily. “They are creating a dream and giving hope to every rugby player to get to their level which will push up the standards.”
“There’s a lot of work to do,” admits Saba. “The improvements are happening and by giving us this opportunity to learn and deliver our knowledge to the Lebanese rugby league community, we’ll be able to influence generations to come.”
Haddad claimed that the concept of Lebanon as a rugby league country is slowing gaining traction in a country without any great sporting culture: “In Lebanon, I believe almost everyone knows of rugby league and what we achieved. The sport has the potential to become really popular as it appeals to our youth’s mentality.”
The Beirut development officer and assistant coach to Liban Espoir (U20/21 national team) and the Junior Cedars (U18/19) is intent on increasing the number of schools involved in the U16 and U18 championships as a result.
Saba, who is also an assistant coach with one of the schools, acknowledged that the opportunity to learn more about her craft in Australia has been, “One of the happiest moments of my life. I really hope rugby league will grow more and more and I’m sure it will, especially its role in guiding young people to deal with hardships. More wins from the Cedars will have a huge impact in Lebanon.”