The young men were at war and yet as they played Rugby on pitches consisting of “sun-baked mud that rashed and cut all unwary players, or several inches deep in heavy, black mud” the war was briefly forgotten.
It was 1915 and as British and ANZAC forces were leading up towards the Dardanelle campaign, the stationed soldiers took it upon themselves to do as soldiers in repose would do, which is to make the best of a bad situation. Teams were formed and although there is no specific record of what was used for a football, several games were played under the shadow of the great Pyramids towering some 170 meters above them.
Although Rugby had been introduced much earlier in the 19th century by British, French and other expatriates, the sight of Rugby being played amidst the First World War in the middle of Egypt must have been a historic thing indeed.
Fast-forward almost a century later, and although there had been continuous Rugby being played in the land of the Pharaohs throughout the 20th century, it was not until 2016 that the first Arab Rugby 7s Tournament was held in Egypt and not until 2017 that the governing body, the Egyptian Rugby Football Union was formed and officially approved.
ERFU Vice-president Hassan Khaled commented on the struggle Egyptian Rugby had to exert in order to get to this momentous achievement.
“We had our wins along the way with our participation in the CAR [Confederation of African Rugby] and helping establish the ARU [Arab Rugby Union], also hosting the African tournament and the first ever Arab tournament in Egypt, sending the first men and women national teams to compete in international tournaments,” Khaled laments. Between 1993 and 2010, Egypt was associate member of the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union with Lebanon and Jordan before joining the CAR.
Since then, boosted by the hype of HSBC World Rugby Sevens in the Gulf state of the UAE, Rugby has seen a resurgence in Egypt with 12 Rugby Clubs in the country including Cairo Rugby Club, Alexandria Rugby Club and the AUC Wolves along with hundreds of players of all ages, both men and women actively playing. In the under 20s, the Egyptian national Rugby team has played international games against Lebanon with the seniors having played Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania. Both XVs and Sevens are played for the men and Sevens only at the moment for women in Egypt.
In early 2018, Egypt hosted the first El Gouna Rugby Sevens Open which ERFU president Hossam Saheb hopes to attract domestic interest in the game as well as establish Egypt as a Rugby destination for future Rugby tours.
“I hope to see El Gouna Open developing quickly to become one of the top opens in the world like the Hong Kong and Dubai Sevens which witnessed the participation of 300 teams. We are targeting 12 men’s teams and eight women’s teams at El Gouna,” Saheb said.
With more and more Rugby being played and with a history of their football counterparts always at the top rankings of African football, we hope to see Egyptian Rugby progress into a world class contender representing the best of their country, much like the men who played Rugby under the Pyramids did for theirs, so many years ago.