Rugby league should consider changing its name to avoid confusion with rugby union, according to the man who spent 13 days in jail as a result of just such a misunderstanding.
On Thursday your correspondent embarked on the six-and-a-half hour round-trip from London to Exeter in south-west England to meet Sol Mokdad – the 30-year-old Lebanese national who was recently arrested for promoting league in the United Arab Emirates.
Mokdad, raised in an expatriate enclave of Saudi Arabia, fled Dubai after signing a grovelling apology written for him by UAE Rugby, who have appointed their own rugby league body and with whom the Rugby League International Federation seems intent on doing business.
Asked if rugby union authorities should be allowed to run rugby league competitions, which is what UAE Rugby claims the right to do, Mokdad said, “Definitely not.
“What we are seeing with the rebranding of the IRB to World Rugby is that they are trying to take over rugby worldwide just by name.
“We are an independent sport and that’s why I raised the question on Twitter of whether we should rebrand ourselves as a sport.
“There’s a lot of history behind it and I’ve only been involved for the last 10 or 12 years. There were a lot of passionate people saying we shouldn’t (do that), that that is our heritage.
“But times have changed. I think World Rugby are miles ahead at the moment. It just comes down to how we position ourselves and how we want to move forward.
“In my case, the first thing I did was jump on the constitution of UAE Rugby and they have no right to run rugby league and I don’t think rugby league people want rugby union people running two codes.”
Rugby union authorities in Italy also claim to run rugby league competitions while the national union competition in the US is known as the National Rugby League.
In the next instalment of ‘Far and Wide 360′, the monthly segment on Fox Sports’ NRL 360, Mokdad will talk about the immediate circumstances surrounding his arrest and conditions in prison.
Mokdad has read most of what has been written about him in the rugby league press and on social media since his arrest, and has been humbled by the support he received.
In answer to criticism over his failure to have the sport recognised in the UAE, he said he had been advised by the General Authority of Youth and Sports to continue playing the sport before having it recognised.
Furthermore, he says an official entrusted with winning government recognition had failed to do so and resigned when he was jailed.
“The international federation needs to understand you can’t leave it up to individuals – especially non-nationals – to try and develop the sport without any financial support,” he said.
“(RLIF chief executive) David Collier is going to have a real hard time trying to get government recognition there because it’s all about saving face.”
He denied the grounds he used were rugby union fields.
“They’re private property. The AFL uses it, the touch football uses it. It’s just ridiculous these claims.”
And he said the sponsorship proposals the likes of Nissan, which were the centre of the fraud allegations against him, clearly made the distinction between the codes.
Mokdad has given up on the game in the UAE following his incarceration and is currently looking for employment prospects in English league.