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The ties that unite: Lebanon, the rugby league and ties with Australia |  Rugby League News


Lebanese fans cheer their team on in 2017 FIFA World Cup quarter-final against Tonga

“There is something about being Lebanese, you can never put your finger on it. I was born here but when I went there as an adult, the first time we landed in Beirut, I really felt a strong connection with the place. “

Those were the words of Michael Cheika, the former head coach of Australia’s national rugby team, after his unveiling in November. like the man leading Lebanon at the 2021 Rugby Union World Cup.

Born in Sydney to a Lebanese family, the 53-year-old is one of 230,880 Australians of Middle Eastern ancestry, with around 66,000 Lebanese-born people living in the greater Sydney area alone.

Cheika’s parents emigrated in the 1950s, but many of them are the tens of thousands of refugees who fled Lebanon during the civil war in the country that raged between 1975 and 1990. Of these horrors, however , emerged one of the most unlikely rugby. league success stories.

Next year’s World Cup in England will mark the 21st anniversary of the Cedars who bowed at the world’s sporting gathering, when a team made up entirely of players based in Australia provided the spark for a revolution in the rugby league.

He made a sporting link between the Lebanese community in Australia and their home country as well – and Danny Kazandjian, the man who led the development of sport nationally in Lebanon in the early 2000s, knows just how it was important.

“Academic papers have been written on the links between the Lebanese diaspora and the Lebanese rugby league project and how the two have cohabited to generate activity, visibility and longevity,” said Kazandjian, now secretary general of the world sports governing body, International Rugby League Sky Sports.

The ties that unite: Lebanon, the rugby league and ties with Australia |  Rugby League News

Danny Kazandjian helped establish Lebanon’s national rugby league

“Emigration levels from Lebanon to Australia are lower than they used to be, but there is still a very strong link. A lot of Lebanese I know in Australia, you will think you are in Lebanon.

“They speak Arabic, some of them don’t speak English very well, the layout of their houses is very Lebanese, they have Lebanese satellite TV and only watch Lebanese TV. Culturally, they have maintained ties with the homeland even though they are separated by geography. “

The history of the rugby league in Lebanon begins with John and George Elias who formed a team for the 1997 Rugby Sevens World League, graduating from full internationals the following year and qualifying for the 2000 World Cup. with victories over Italy, Morocco and the United States.

A 64-0 loss to eventual New Zealand finalists in the rain at Kingsholm in Gloucester was followed by encouraging performances in the 24-22 loss to Wales and a 22-22 draw with the Cook Islands in the group stage.

The ties that unite: Lebanon, the rugby league and ties with Australia |  Rugby League News

Lebanon drew with Cook Islands in the 2000 Rugby Union World Cup

Some of them who received permission to represent Lebanon were also on a mission to launch the rugby league in the country, the Englishman Kazanjian – whose ties to the nation come from his parents having met while he lived there – seizing the opportunity to lead that in 2002 after making contact with the Elias ahead of their first World Cup.

It was his work that led the 13-man code to establish a permanent presence in a country with no rugby league heritage, starting by integrating it into universities and spreading from there. On the international scene, however, it will take until 2017 for the Cedars to qualify again for the World Cup.

Reaching the quarter-finals of this tournament in Australia allowed Lebanon to automatically secure a berth at next year’s World Cup and Cheika took the opportunity to coach the team after being among those who won them. argued three years ago.

“This tournament was an opportunity to show a bit of Lebanese culture not only to Australians but to everyone watching on TV,” Cheika told Australia. The telegraph of the day.

The ties that unite: Lebanon, the rugby league and ties with Australia |  Rugby League News

This is an incredible opportunity for me to do something that represents the land where my parents are from.

Lebanon’s new head coach Michael Cheika

“Sport has the ability to bring people together, it brings out the best in people. I watched those matches, jumping up and down, clapping and crying sometimes.

“It is an incredible opportunity for me to do something that represents the land where my parents are from.”

Cheika is not the first big name in Australia to lend its support to the project, with NRL stars like Hazem El Masri – formerly of Canterbury Bulldogs, a club with a large support base among the Lebanese community in Sydney – and , most recently, Robbie Farah having pulled on the distinctive green and red jersey in the past.

The next step, however, is to start incorporating more players from the Lebanese national competition into the makeup of the national team rather than relying on heritage players based in Australia, which Cheika has indicated he wants to do.

The ties that unite: Lebanon, the rugby league and ties with Australia |  Rugby League News

Robbie Farah represented Lebanon at the 2017 Rugby Union World Cup

Under the current arrangement, the Lebanese Rugby League Federation (LRLF), bound by the country’s sporting laws, oversees the national championship and the country’s development programs, while also mandating the national team to represent them as well as the state. Much of the expertise in leading an international campaign comes from Australia.

Kazandjian has known since he started setting up the LRLF and managing how the relationship between the national governing body and the Australian branch has not always gone smoothly, but added that the tension can be a force for good and that the nation aims to rely on a relatively quick situation. progress it has made over the past two decades.

“There is no point in any sport having a national team without a cultural identity, level of visibility or recognition in the homeland and this is something the Lebanese federation is struggling with – as well as other countries with strong expat communities in Australia and Europe, ”says Kazanjian.

“This tension has always been present, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are when the tension becomes too taught, it can lead to animosity between the two bodies.

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“When the two sides work together it can lead to some really positive results as we have seen with the good news on Lebanon – the most recent being Michael Chieka taking over as a coach and his belief in the project. It’s a double-edged sword. the sword and something that they will have to struggle with in a temperate manner. “





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