RUGBY CHANGED MY LIFE
Dec 09, 2016
Zaid Arabiat will be the first to tell you that as a 19-year-old he was heading down the wrong path in life.
Frequently in trouble and with “an ego as big as a building” he admits that he was being dragged towards the dark side.
But then he discovered rugby after a friend was concerned to see the direction that his young adult life was going towards and convinced him to give it a go.
“The sport was not really well known at the time here and I had no idea what it was about but my friend told me to channel all my negative energy into it,” said Zaid. “I was hooked from the moment I put my hands on the rugby ball and it changed my life completely.”
Now aged 31, Zaid is a role model as captain of the Jordan national side and is actively encouraging scores of other kids to get involved as the sport enters an ambitious era in Jordan.
“Those early days it was really tough,” he recalls. “We had very little in terms of equipment and playing facilities. The most senior player used to take the coaching and competitive games were very few.
“But we were a very active group of around 15-20 players that actually paid to train three times a week and we improved as a team quickly as well.”
The open side flanker recalls how the tight unit started to gel as a team by winning their first venture into international 15s rugby in 2006, defeating Lebanon and Syria, and further improving to win the Asian Level Five tournament in 2010 featuring Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
But it is over the past couple of years that rugby has really taken a foothold in Jordan with a dynamic behind-the-scenes team creating a strategic plan to grow the sport and make it accessible to all.
Jordan Rugby General Manager Aziz Abukhalaf said that the game is now established in a number of schools and that women are also catered for with overall numbers now swelling beyond 500 players of all backgrounds.
There are also plans to increase the role of the Jordan Rugby Academy as well as to set up a national U18 side. The National League increased to five teams in 2016 and if the physical side of the game is off-putting to some, there is an option of playing non-contact tag rugby.
The hard work has caught the eye of the Asian Rugby Federation who last month officially recognised Jordan as a rugby playing nation.
So it is not surprising that the Kingdom is now on a mission to become recognised by the world body and is also talking of an outside shot of qualifying for the Olympics in 2020.
“We have been improving a lot in 7s lately and with Japan hosting the next Olympics it means another Asian team has a shot, so why not us?” said Zaid, who is also a qualified coach.
“We have a lot of very good players here now. The coaching is also improving and we have a very strong committee working hard for the game.”
But there are challenges ahead. A lack of regular competitive fixtures and the absence of a permanent ‘home’ pitch are constant issues, but a more pressing hitch could have a big impact on the game’s direction here at the highest level.
“Unfortunately our national team coach who has done a tremendous job is heading to Canada in December so we have to sit down and decide what is best for the team,” said Aziz. “Do we recruit from within or do we look outside? It is a decision we will need to think about.”
But rugby is a sport all about camaraderie and Zaid said the numerous broken bones and injuries he has suffered have all been worth it.
“Rugby changed my life and made me deal with people differently. I am without doubt a better person because of rugby. It has made such a big impact on so many of us,” he said. “The spirit in rugby is like no other sport. I would encourage anyone to give it a go. It might take you a day, or a year, but in the end you will love this sport.”
For more information, you can contact Aziz on [email protected].