Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt lose but Arabs win

Four teams battled it out in the first Arab rugby tournament. Heidi Elhakeem reports from El-Gouna

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The national rugby sevens teams of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco competed in the first Arab rugby tournament in a one-day event on 4 March in the Red Sea tourist resort of El-Gouna.

Egypt, coached by Mohamed Moodi, reached the finals against Morocco, known to be robust among Arab teams. The country is a two-time African Cup champion.

Egypt lost, blanked 38-0. Morocco thus won the gold medal and Egypt went home with the silver. The Emirates and Saudi Arabia won third and fourth place respectively, both winning bronze medals.

In the semi-finals, Morocco trounced Saudi Arabia 47-0 while Egypt advanced past the UAE 12-7.

Lebanon also participated but it had to drop out “due to security reasons in their country,” Hassan Khaled, vice president of the Egyptian Rugby Football Union (ERFU), said.

Khaled organised the event hoping to bring Arab countries together through the sport. It was the first time Egypt played Morocco in rugby. He hopes next year other countries, including Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon, join the tournament.

Even though rugby sevens is now recognised as an Olympic sport and will make its debut in this year’s Rio Summer Games, the sport is still somehow unpopular among Egyptians compared to other sports. However, the national team has some promising players. Egypt’s team consisted of 12 players from the Alex Rugby Club, AUC Wolves and the Eagles Rugby Club. The roster had Ahmed Hesham, Ahmed Naguib, Mahmoud Suleiman, Mohamed Salama, Marwan Ahmed and team captain Youssri Sami (Alex); Abdullah Attia, Ahmed Al-Nakah and Ahmed Saafan (AUC); and Ahmed Hossam, Ahmed Al-Soussi and Mohamed Khaled (Eagles).

Sami has been playing with the national team since 2009. “This was a successful tournament in my opinion,” although more teams need to compete. “I expect them to be more next time.”

In high spirits Sami didn’t mind his team’s loss and believed his teammates did their best. He thinks his team “faced a tough final match with Morocco. Their players are very professional and mostly come from France.

“Such a tournament will help us get more recognition amongst all world unions and will help us to become a steady part of Arab rugby,” Sami added.

Sami had his wedding the day before the game, yet made it to the match. His wife came for support, not minding spending her first day of being married at a rugby game. She happily cheered.

Morocco’s captain Mohamed Ebid was happy with the results. “There are always new quality players who come from Morocco,” he said. Coach Boubekar Boujouala thinks that Egypt has many young good players that he hopes will show development in their game by the next tournament that will be played in Morocco. “We hope that Egypt joins us and competes against our country again,” Boujouala added.

The tournament was attended by Qais Al-Dhalai, chairman of the Arab Rugby Federation (ARF), Taher Bugawla, chairman of the Royal Moroccan Rugby Federation and vice president of the ARF, Falah Al-Beshi, president of the Saudi Rugby Committee, Mustafa Al-Hoti, vice president of the Libyan Rugby Committee, Mohamed Ragi, general secretary of the Royal Moroccan Rugby Federation, Hamdan Suleiman, ARF manager and Mohamed Shaker, ARF general secretary.

In the next Arab tournament Al-Dhalai said he hoped to increase the number of participating countries. “Rugby is growing in Arab countries; 10 are currently playing the sport,”Al-Dhalai said.

Rugby has certainly made a niche for itself in some Arab countries. The UAE Rugby Federation was awarded full membership status in the International Rugby Board in November 2012, the highest recognition that a union could be awarded by the international governing body.

The UAE’s official rugby Twitter account has 17.8K followers.

The Royal Moroccan Rugby Federation was formed in 1916 while the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, was formed in 1974.

Egypt’s rugby still has no official union; it’s still under consideration. There was a recent meeting between Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz and ERFU’s vice president in December last year.

Abdel-Rahman Boodi, one of the tournament’s referees, said the event showed the “positive attitude” attributed to the sport among Arab countries.

“I didn’t know Egypt had a rugby team. They are much better than I would have ever expected,” Marwan Ahmed, manager of the sports news website kingfut.com, said.

Kingfut has been reporting news for Egypt’s sports fans for nearly four years. It was the first time it reports on rugby in Egypt. “After seeing Egypt’s team, we sure will continue reporting on it. Those players deserve to be heard of by Egypt’s sports fans,” Ahmed added.

Sohyl Al-Nayl, captain of the Alex rugby women’s team, came from Alexandria to support “our national team”.

Frank Merkestein, a rugby fan from The Netherlands vacationing in El-Gouna, came to watch the game with his wife Jacqueline. They found a brochure about the tournament in their hotel. “It’s a good idea to come watch some rugby and see Egypt’s national team,” Merkestein told Al-Ahram Weekly.

There were no women in this tournament but Egypt’s rugby women’s team will compete in an upcoming local tournament later this month.

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