MASCORD: Roosters’ Dubai trip raises plenty of questions

Steve Mascord Columnist

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    Are the Sydney Roosters seriously going for a training camp in Dubai, where rugby league’s official representative was locked up by the government for 13 days?

    This column is fond of pointing out short-sightedness and a lack of unity in the 13-man game, but it’s hard to think of a bigger disconnect in recent years than this rather scandalous development.

    It’s been reported by multiple sources that, en route to their Langtree Park appointment with St Helens on February 20, the Tricolours will be stopping off in Dubai for a three-day training camp.

    To recap, rugby union claims the right to run rugby of all codes in the United Arab Emirates, and to prove its point, had UAERL general manager Sol Mokdad incarcerated for fraud in May last year.

    World Cup qualifiers set down for Dubai in December were duly moved to Africa because self-governed rugby league is essentially illegal in the UAE.

    There is now no sanctioned rugby league in a country that once had ambitions to host the World Cup. Playing the World Club Challenge there is off the agenda indefinitely.

    But do the weather, affordable facilities and a handy airline hub outweigh the moral responsibility the Roosters feel to the sport they play?

    Roosters coach Trent Robinson is a devoted internationalist. I’d like to think he is aware of the situation and plans to use the trip to rugby league’s advantage.

    But how can the club pump money into the economy of a country where rugby league is not only illegal but has been actively persecuted?

    Sol Mokdad, jailed on May 6, chose the high road when I asked him about the plans.

    “It’s an outstanding place for a training camp. The weather is brilliant,” he said.

    “I’m going to be constructive and hope that whoever has organised this training camp should use their contacts to give rugby league recognition as an independent sport in the UAE.”

    But there are fears the rugby union will instead parade the Roosters as a shining example of their sport, while continuing to muddy the waters regarding league’s independence globally.

    Mokdad is now in Lebanon and doesn’t believe rugby league has a future in Dubai. But the real fear is that the Rugby League International Federation itself will appease the government to such an extent that rugby union will end up getting its way and will run league.

    And if that happens, it can happen elsewhere. The Italian Rugby Union recently annexed the rebel league comp there. We are looking at a slippery slope where rugby league could end up like touch football.

    Just about everywhere but Australia, touch football is closely aligned to rugby union. There are a dozen countries where rugby league could end up run by union if we are not strong.

    What hope does rugby league have when it’s biggest clubs tacitly support a regime that locks up its officials?

    The Roosters should either lead a concerted campaign to right the wrongs of Sol Mokdad’s imprisonment, or abandon this Dubai visit completely.

    Steve Mascord has started a Kickstarter campaign discussing sport, rock music and extremism. Find out more about it here.

    Steve Mascord
    Steve Mascord

    Steve Mascord has covered rugby league in 15 countries and worked for most media organisations that regularly feature the sport, on both sides of the globe. He started off as an 18-year-old cadet at Australian Associated Press, transferring to the Sydney Morning Herald just in time to go on the last full Kangaroos Tour in 1994. He spent three years at Sydney's Daily Telegraph from 2006 before going freelance at the conclusion of the 2008 World Cup. Steve is the author of the book Touchstones, host of the White Line Fever podcast and propriety of, and He is married to Sarah and splits his time between London and Sydney.