In 2021, Greece will make their first ever Rugby League World Cup debut, despite being banned to play in Greece and qualifying for the World Cup against all odds.
The Greek Rugby League Association is not recognised as the official Rugby League authority by the Greek government, thus playing the sport is illegal. The Greek players and staff have been forced to pay around $10,000 each and some have even risked being arrested just for playing rugby league.
On one occasion during a match between Greece and Serbia, police turned up to the game and took away the captains of the respective sides away for questioning. Consequently, games take place well after midnight in obscure locations to avoid being caught.
Aris Dardamanis, one of the boys in the national team who is also captain of the Aris Eagles team at club level, highlighted that even though at one stage his teammates and himself were indeed banned from playing, that didn’t stop them from playing the sport they love. “They often threatened us, vowing to send police to every field that we would play on until there would be none left. Now we have responded in the best possible way, we are going to the World Cup and we did it without any help!”
President of the Greek Rugby League Association, George Stilianos explains that the Greek Ministry of Sport banning the Greek National Team from playing rugby league, “stems back to an ill-informed decision taken back in 2016 to put the sport of Rugby League under the authority of the modern pentathlon federation. The pentathlon administration at the time (and until very recently) was hostile towards us and created all sorts of problems and obstacles towards us. There has been a change of administration recently though and we met also with the new pentathlon bosses in December. The meeting went very well and both sides showed a keen willingness to end hostilities between the sides so that both sports can move forward in their own separate directions. We will be holding some follow-up talks with them again very soon.”
Rugby league in Greece is a small sport, but is growing fast. “We now have 7 active men’s teams and 2 women’s teams and I am confident we will form more new teams (male, female and youth level) in the coming years,” George continued.
#LetGreecePlay is a campaign established to shine a spotlight on the Greek Rugby League Association plight, which it did. George noted that “while it did not bring us immediate results, we are confident that it got us the publicity we needed going forward and solving this messy situation.”
As of recently, the association hasn’t been in contact with the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports, Lina Mendoni as they had a very busy schedule at the end of 2019, but they plan to make that their top priority for 2020.
Ari continued to state that soon he hopes that every Greek person will be able to go to their local field on a weekend and watch a match, or to turn on their TV and be able to watch Greek Rugby League matches. Not to mention, he hopes more of their players get contracts overseas and wants to be able to set up scholarship programs with universities here and abroad. “Last but not least, being able to have a Rugby League field of our own would be the ultimate goal as right now we play on soccer fields.”
GCT followers can support #LetGreecePlay by following Greek Rugby League Association and for those that are in Greece, you are invited to watch a match or get involved in other capacities (playing, coaching, refereeing, support staff).
The Rugby League World Cup draw has also been announced. Check it out below-