Bethan Simpson, daughter of MEP (Member European Parliament) Brian, has just completed a two week trip to Lebanon, where she has made quite an impression on the local rugby league community.
Before she left, she gave an interview about her stay there.
How did your visit to Lebanon come about?
“I was doing an international aid course in England, a part of which entailed traveling to a foreign country and helping with some form of development. I chose Lebanon as I knew there was rugby league out there.”
What are your impressions of the country?
“It’s beautiful – much more beautiful than I imagined. I didn’t really have any preconceptions – but whatever I thought it would be, it was more! I’ve been to the north a few times, to Koura and Akkar as well as Tripoli and Balamand; I’ve visited Beirut, Baalbek and Zahle and loved all of it.”
What are your links with rugby league?
“I’m from Warrington, which is a big League town. I started playing when I was four, stopped at 15 and started coaching. From 16 I began working for the Wolves, the local professional club, and I specialize in coaching children of all ages.”
Some people in Lebanon might find a girl working as a coach in a sport like rugby league a bit strange?
“In the UK male or female sports fans are all considered the same, especially in rugby league which has always been a great family sport and one that encourages equality of all kinds. Working in the game is completely natural and in England, among the major sports, it has the highest ration of women to men in the stadium crowds.”
What have you been doing with the Lebanese Rugby League?
“I’ve visited lots of schools to conduct some coaching sessions, meet the players, the school teachers and various officials. I’ve also attended all the training sessions of the five clubs that participate in the ‘Bank of Beirut Championship’, as well as the recent Under16s national training camps.Also, I’ve watched a couple of league matches; it has been a busy two weeks.”
What is your analysis of rugby league in Lebanon?
“Mainly that it’s very well organized and much more developed than I thought. The league structure, the playing standard, how well the LRLC has gained a significant presence in the university and schools systems, has all been stand-outs. Their coaching structure is good, especially the project of developing school teachers as coaches.
What has been your overriding impression?
“The genuine passion. Everyone is so enthusiastic, from the players all the way through the management to the board. It has been eye-opening to see just how many hoops the LRLC has to jump through to get things done. The amount of bureaucracy they have to contend with from the sports and education ministries really jolted me as we don’t have such difficulties in England. Finally, I’ve been impressed with how some of the clubs and schools manage with some pretty basic facilities.”
What will be the legacy of your trip?
“I intend to take my experiences back home and show people there what a dynamic development project Lebanon has fostered. I plan to send over a number of kits for the schools ahead of Lebanon’s national schools championship in October. Also, Warrington Wolves and the Rugby League European Federation will work on setting up a player-exchange programme with the idea of bringing Middle Eastern youngsters over to the club during the summer for a months training camp. That is a long-term project that we can work on.”
Meanwhile, on the field, Sunday will see the ‘Bank of Beirut Final Eliminator’, with defending champions Jounieh playing USJ Saints in Bhamdoun.
Saints - who were in bottom place last season - finished third this time around and go into the clash as massive underdogs, although just reaching the semi-final is a notable achievement. Ramy Rassi has been their stand out performer while Jounieh, who struggled for consistency throughout most of the season, come into the play-off injury free but possibly underdone, not having played since March 31st.
The LRLC has named three assistants to head coach Faysal Jaber for the Under 16s national team who are in training for their tour to Saudi Arabia. They are Rayan Toot (Emir Fakhreldine School), Nader Moughait (Zeheriyeh Boys) and Hatem Hanna (Beqarzla High School).
photos Janos Schmidt