Rugby Values Shine Through in Lebanon, Rugby is known as not only a sport but a culture that brings everyone together through its core values which every rugby player has and it is shown in both good and bad times.
What we witnessed in the last few days was a pure example on what the rugby community is capable of and how it is engaged and united which makes you feel proud of being part of such a unique community.
As Lebanon Rugby is part of the global rugby community what affects the first affects the latter, therefore they both came together and put efforts into place to offer as much help as they can after the tragedy that happened in Lebanon on 4 August 2020 when a huge shocking explosion rocked one of Lebanon’s most beautiful cities, Beirut.
The big blast took place in the Port of Beirut and was caused by about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been confiscated by the Lebanese government and then stored in the port without proper safety measures for six years.
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The disastrous explosion –that Lebanon had never experienced something alike in its troubled history– caused at least US$10–15 billion in property damage, 171 deaths, and left more than 6,000 people injured, and about 300,000 homeless, as it is considered to be one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history.
Many Lebanese lives have been turned upside down since that ominous day, they did not have the perfect life before that either as their country had been going through some hard time due to an economic crisis following the October 2019 protests, let alone the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asia Rugby was in touch with Lebanon Rugby during this disaster and was able to speak to Lebanon Rugby CEO Sol Mokdad to have more insight about the situation there and how Lebanon Rugby is doing during these tough, dark days.
Lebanon Rugby was also affected by the number of events that had been going on in Lebanon before the explosion such as the unprecedented economic crisis that has affected every Lebanese organization, company, federation, and citizen.
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This has caused hyperinflation and increased poverty rates, in addition of a host of economic and social challenges along the way. Yet, Lebanon Rugby still managed to run their schedule and organize senior and junior rugby tournaments.
Since Sol has taken over as CEO of Lebanon Rugby, he has made it his mandate to operate Lebanon Rugby to incur zero debt as he claimed. “With limited to no finances available to us from sponsorship and the Ministry of Youth & Sport, we have had to adapt to the dynamic of the economy.
Lebanon Rugby does not pay any wages, and we do not rely on external finances for our operations.” Sol said. However, Lebanon Rugby has seen huge success in their Junior Rugby this year due to the efforts of volunteers and leadership of Manuel Stanislas, Director of Junior Rugby.
Apart from the economic crisis, Lebanon was one of the first countries to go into lockdown due the COVID-19 pandemic and dealt with the situation very well initially. Sol explained to us “We stopped all Rugby activities as requested by the Government.
This affected practice, games, and scheduled tournaments. When the lockdown was removed, we initiated “Return to Play” policies following consultation with Asia Rugby and the Ministry of Youth & Sport, and we were able to complete most of our fixtures for the 2019/2020 season.”
Despite the hard time that their country was going through, Lebanon Rugby was recovering well from this phase and things were put in place to recruit volunteers for specific roles.
Besides an overhaul of the Administrative Board was due to take place as they continue to grow and develop. “We were slowly building to a solid 2020/2021 season with focus on good governance, operational efficiency, and player development,” Sol mentioned. “But on 4 August 2020, the landscape of Lebanon changed forever with the shocking explosion that took place in the Port of Beirut.
Luckily, this did not affect any of our operations as we are on a season break. However, it is amazing how engaged our rugby community is and how they reacted to helping the community and implement the values of rugby into their daily lives.” Sol added.
“It was surreal”, this is how Sol described the explosion as he was only 10 km away from where the explosion happened. “I have lived through wars. They did not compare to the terror this explosion caused.” He added. As many other Lebanese Sol could not sleep the first two nights just thinking about the moment, and the havoc it wreaked in the areas close by, and all the lives that were lost because of the tragic event.
Luckily none of Lebanon Rugby family and larger community were seriously injured due to this explosion, but one of the national team players lost his home. “It was amazing to see how the funds raised to renovate his home were collected within 5 minutes. Our senior players, our women’s players, even our junior players were down in the heavily affected areas doing their bit for the community almost immediately.” Sol proudly said.
Lebanon Rugby did not stand still watching their beloved city covered in rubble, and their people wandering in the streets after losing their homes, but they offered a big hand and helped in the process of rebuilding the city in many ways such as raising funds, and in this matter
Sol said “I consulted with Raymond Asfour, a Lebanon Rugby Board Member, and we set up the Lebanon Rugby Disaster Fund to support existing organizations with funds we collect from the global rugby family.
Many of our Board Members are also active within organizations and supported through their network to provide relief in certain aspects of the recovery”.
Lebanon Rugby Gofundme Campaign has been very well accepted and has raised almost £13,000 to date. It has been shared by high profile international rugby players and shared by hundreds of rugby enthusiasts around the world.
“I am overwhelmed with all the support we are getting from our rugby community in Lebanon and abroad. It genuinely sends chills down my spine every time I think about it and how every little bit goes a long way to help our capital rise from the ashes” Sol said.
Raising funds is not the only way Lebanon Rugby was able to help, but their response to the disaster was much bigger than that as players went down in the affected areas on a daily basis volunteering in any way possible to assist those in need. “It is a tragic event and it gives me hope to see how we have made an impact on the lives of those sadly affected by this catastrophe.
Many of our senior players are involved in NGO’s that work on specific projects within the area, and I am in contact with an organization to create a formal relationship to continue our support. There is a lot of work to be done, and we need to keep doing our bit to help.” Sol shared with us.
The support and help offered from Lebanon Rugby extend to include many others. Wadih Nassif, Lebanon Rugby Medical Manager, is a leader at the Lebanese Red Cross and runs a centre in Gemmayzeh, which was destroyed due to the explosion. “Wadih Nassif has been outstanding in his support to the area and continues to lead by example,” Sol mentioned.
“We also have a bigger project we are working on, which initially was developed to raise funds for Lebanon Rugby and existing charities to provide food for hungry families in Lebanon. Following this catastrophe, it seems like we have to rework our strategy and get funds through to the relief and rebuild efforts being set up.” Sol continued saying.
Lebanon is in an unfortunate position due to the economic situation in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the catastrophe of the Beirut Port explosion, and it has definitely put Lebanon Rugby in a tough position but they are capable of overcoming whatever challenges life throws at them as Sol confirmed “I can say that through what I have seen from our community, we will prevail and continue developing through our greatest asset, the people.
I can’t stress enough how our success has come through our people and their willingness to withstand all the challenges thrown at them time and time again. This makes my job much easier, as I know I can count on our community to put our small nation on the map in Asia.”
Lebanon Rugby will be having a leadership meeting at the end of the month to address the situation specifically and their plan moving forward, as they are yet picking up the pieces from the explosion, and the aftermath it has created in the political climate in Lebanon.
The response of Lebanon Rugby to this catastrophe is absolutely astonishing and heartwarming. Seeing Lebanese rugby players down in the streets standing together, helping others, cleaning rubbles as one big united family and seeing the rugby global community rushes to help gives you goosebumps and hope.
“I have been involved with rugby for over 25 years and I have always believed in its culture, its impact on the youth, and how the values genuinely make you a better person.” Sol said. “Seeing the domestic and global rugby community come to the aid of Lebanon in times like these gives me hope, direction, and inspiration. The values of this sport we love are truly special, and it is evident in the actions of many,” he added.
Sol and everyone involved in Lebanon Rugby believes that they will always continue to break barriers no matter what the odds are as they keep following up their own motto “One Nation” which they always aim to stand and live by, and they have made that clear to the whole world by showing their solidarity and reflecting rugby values throughout their unity and belief that they will rise again.
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