Rugby in Pakistan

While we are mostly concerned with our cricket team’s abysmal performances that often follow dramatic victories, or vice versa, a lot of people may not know that Pakistan is ranked 91st in the world in Rugby. There is a total of 105 countries that are a part of these international rankings and although, it may seem bad, it’s really not. Rugby is actually growing in the country and even though, our players just got started, we seem to be doing pretty good at it.

The name of the international body, which is the equivalent of the ICC, is “World Rugby” and it has 120 unions officially aligned with it in the same number of countries. It went through a few name changes but fortunately, the chief seems to be pretty independent and not under the influence of any “big markets”. Mr. Beaumont may have a French sounding name but he’s actually British, which is kind of interesting because Rugby in the Muslim world was introduced by those two powers and to a lesser extent, the Dutch, in Indonesia.

West African Muslim countries that were former French colonies seem to be faring much better than those who were under the British when it comes to Rugby. Pakistan and Malaysia learned how to play the sport from our former colonial masters but neither of us have returned the favor by sending any players their way. Turns out that the countries that were ruled by the French have given them quite a few stars and also, rank pretty high. Pakistan, on the other hand, has given it’s former master many cricketers as a token of thanks for introducing us to the sport, so maybe we can find some solace in that.

To be fair, one of our local Rugby players did play well enough, recently, to get himself signed for a British league. Since he’s local and can’t possibly be related to anyone there, it obviously means that he made it there based on sheer talent and skill. This, sadly, isn’t something a lot of our players from other sports, that make it to the top, can brag about.

Rugby was first played in modern-day Pakistan in 1926 when the British formed the first club in Karachi. They continued to play amongst themselves till the 70s, even after independence, when their ships made port calls. It can be assumed that they didn’t find that many takers because everyone was probably busy playing cricket. There’s no reason to draw any parallels with Apartheid South Africa where Rugby was a sport played by one race and football by the other.

No reason to appeal to colonial discrimination, either as they had no problem with our cricketers playing alongside them for decades prior to independence.  Cricket is quite similar to gilli danda so maybe the transition for the locals wasn’t that complex. Now, Rugby also has many commonalities with local sports but it was probably because traditional wrestling and kabaddi didn’t require our heavyweights (literally) to have to run across an entire field or kick anything, either.

As their presence waned in the Indian ocean, so did the sport. It wasn’t until the 90s that the sport became fully indigenous as local clubs started to spring up across our three major urban centers: Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Even in this phase, the sport was played in conjunction with foreign diplomats and their staff.

2000 was when things started to get serious. Pakistan Rugby Union was formed and Pakistan gained recognition from the Asian Rugby body. By 2003, Pakistan’s national side played it’s first tournament against other, regional teams and became a member of the international body that is now named World Rugby. It may come as a surprise to many that Pakistan’s Rugby Union has remained free from political interference, corruption and nepotism unlike the other 3 big sports (cricket, hockey and football). The main reason behind this is the fact that most of the staff and players are affluent and educated, so they probably don’t need the sport to increase their wealth or stature; they’re already doing pretty good.

In addition, the “departments” getting involved in the sport are mostly from the Army. While the institution is known for its housing solutions across the country, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll engage in creative urban planning and build some kind of a complex over the field. We can only wish we had the same kind of comfort when it comes to administrative bodies managing other sports.

Pakistan, therefore, needs a lot more Rugby in it’s society and not just sports, in specific. They already seem to be doing very well because even our traditionally conservative tribal areas have fielded a women’s team. And there’s no need to worry; a female rugby player isn’t even remotely as scary as it sounds. In fact, even in this regard, having more Rugby in our society wouldn’t hurt much.

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