Libya’s burgeoning rugby scene

 
The Al Ahly rugby club in Tripoli has just won the first round of the Libya Cup. While the Libyan tournament may not exactly rival the Six Nations championship, this victory is a huge one for our Observers, who are rugby fans in a country where football reigns supreme.
 
Libya does not have a national rugby federation, only local committees that are organising the cup with what little means they have. The Libya Cup pits the country’s eight clubs, which are located in Tripoli and Benghazi, against one another.

"The former regime only paid attention to football, no doubt because one of Gaddafi's sons was a professional player"

Abdelkarim Forjani is a former rugby player (2001-2007). Since 2009, he has been a member of the Tripoli rugby committee.
 
Rugby was played a bit in the 1960s by expats who worked in military bases or in companies here. It was a hobby for them. In 1998, a group of French and British expats founded a real rugby club, the Tripoli Barbarians. Five or six Libyans were on the team, too. Most of the games were played in Tunisia or in Malta, but we also held a few home games here. We received financial help from various embassies. But until 2009, our sport had no legal standing.
 
The former government refused to recognise rugby as a legitimate sport, maybe because it was considered to be violent [Editor’s Note: boxing and wrestling were banned during Muammar Gaddafi’s era for this reason]. They only paid attention to football, no doubt because Saad Gaddafi, one of the former ruler’s sons, was a professional player and presided over one of Tripoli’s football clubs. In any case, the old regime didn’t care much about sports in general, save for promoting the athletic exploits of Saad Gaddafi.
 
"Two players died and 11 were injured during the revolution"
 
The revolution, of course, affected Tripoli’s rugby players. We stopped playing; two players died and 11 more were injured. Today, those that were injured can’t play anymore, but they help out with administrative tasks in the committee.
 
We now have 133 rugby players in all of Libya. The sport kicked off in the city of Benghazi in 2007. Now, we need a third city to start playing so that we can create a federation. We’re starting to teach some youths in the city of Misrata how to play.
 
Our Observer Alaa, on the right, receives a cup after his team won the first round of the Libyan Cup. Photo published on the Facebook page of Libyan Alahadi.

"We don’t have a rugby field, with goalposts, so we have to play on football fields"

Alaa blogs for Libyablog, which is sponsored by RFI and FRANCE 24. He is part of Tripoli’s Al Ahly club, which won the first round of the Libya Cup.
 
The first time that I heard about rugby in Libya was four years ago. A friend’s cousin belonged to a rugby club and took me to one of their practices.
 
At first I was just curious, but I quickly got into it. I like the sport’s camaraderie, not just among team-mates but also between different teams. We often train alongside other teams, for example. I don’t see this sort of camaraderie in football; perhaps this is simply because our sport is much less popular and so there is much less pressure on the players.
 
My team trains three times per week. We don’t have a rugby field, with goalposts, so we have to play on football fields. We borrow our jerseys from the Tripoli rugby committee – we don’t yet have our own. Other clubs, like the Chabab, also in Tripoli, wear footballers’ jerseys. Our balls are either donated by the committee or by friends who bring them back from overseas. As for finances, we get some money from the sports ministry once in a while, but it’s quite irregular. Most of the time, the club is financed by its members’ donations.
 
We need to educate more people about the sport, notably about its rules, because even the people who come out to see us play don’t really get it. Some people get it confused with American football.
 

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