By Lee Malkoun
Lebanon, a country that has shown resilience since the dawn of civilisation has yet another battle on its hands. But this is like no battle before, this is the struggle for recognition of a group of young men trying to represent the tiny nation on the world stage at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Having qualified for the World Cup through the divisional rounds across the globe, Lebanon is yet to see any real media attention here in Australia. This weekend marks the “International Round” for the NRL, countries competing include, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, England, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Fiji and of course Australia. With players from NRL clubs, English Super League clubs and from around the world all able to participate. Yet the NRL would refuse to insure the eligible Lebanese players without an appropiate insurance policy costing $20,000.
How are the Pacific Island countries able to afford the $20,000 and Lebanon unable you ask? It is because the NRL are able to draw money from the Australian Government for the promotion of the Rugby League to the Pacific Nations. When asked if there were any funds left for the support of Lebanon in the International Round, Lebanon officials were advised to seek assistance from the European Rugby League Federation, where it is near impossible when you are weakly represented at the top by the Lebanese Rugby League Federation.
With the World Cup less than 6 months away, where does Lebanon fit into the International round this weekend? The answer is, New Era Stadium, Cabramatta, NSW. An International game against Malta Rugby League, sanctioned by the NRL, played at an amatuer level field. When stadiums like Leichhardt, Kogarah and Belmore are collecting frost this evening, 34 warriors representing their countries are playing on a field that lacks adequate lighting at some parts of the ground.
With Australians of Lebanese heritage holding a bulk of the NRL memberships at the Sydney clubs, the NRL hasn’t completely forgotten about them, giving them an opportunity to watch their countrymen do them proud. Unfortunately, with the recent treatment of “The Cedars” of Lebanon, the fans can only see this as a ploy to fill the grounds at the World Cup fixtures. If the games were at Suncorp Stadium, I will personally assure you, those grounds would have been filled by the very supporters.
Unfortunately losing their coach Ivan Cleary only this past week, due to the mess he is left to clean at the Wests Tigers, there is no real voice at the NRL level for the Cedars. Having not heard anything from the likes of Robbie Farah, Tim Mannah or Mitchell Moses about the promotion of this game, it’s a little disheartening as they will be representing their country come the tournament.
Speaking with Senior Lebanon Player, Nick Kassis, also sharing the frustration of the exposure and opportunity of this International round, “I think it is awesome that all the pacific nations are able to participate in this international round, especially playing at the same ground used by an NRL Club with all the facilities, but why dont we get the same privilege?” Kassis said. Going on further saying, “Although I am friends with the players and coaching staff of the Cook Islands, they unfortunately did not qualify for the World Cup, yet are able to play and receive exposure this weekend. It has taken us 17 years to make the World Cup and we were not expecting this type of treatment in the year of the tournament”. Nick Kassis took it upon himself to start a social media frenzy in order for the Rugby League World Cup organisers to put some information about the game on social media.
Having been apart of the Lebanon Rugby League Squad myself over the past decade, I can honestly say that these young men who will represent Lebanon this year are very capable rugby league players who will do their country and its people proud.