Iraqi Navy - Up and Running

The Royal Navy has a long tradition of spreading the rugby word around the globe. As the following account from Navy Senior XV Technical Analyst, CPO Ash Coates, shows that proud tradition continues today. When I was deployed to Iraq the prospect of developing as a rugby coach appeared unrealistic. Fortunately as part of the Naval Transition Team in Umm Qasr my Terms of Reference involved mentoring the development of the Iraqi Navy and Marines. This included developing physical training, and provided an opportunity to introduce rugby to the Iraqi sailors and Marines. The first sport in Iraq is Football followed by Volleyball and Basketball. So the first aim was to sell rugby as a game to the Iraqis. Beginning at a very basic level, the first practices were interesting and a challenge to say the least! As the Iraqis spread the word to their shipmates interest and turnout gradually increased week by week. This was helped by showing the Rugby World Cup games as well as Royal Navy games from last season. They became motivated and were enthusiastic with taking the sport further. Aims in early training sessions involved getting the players to understand the basics of rugby as well as enjoying themselves. Initial problems included impressing upon them that the ball can not be passed forwards and that players are not allowed to bounce the ball (as many try to do!). Despite the lack of facilities, they tried their best to grasp the basic principles of the game. The language barrier also provided obstacles, as always a picture paints a thousand words, and demonstrations of certain skills and practices aided the players to understand what was asked of them. Despite language difference, the sport united both the coalition and Iraqi’s in their combined enjoyment of the challenges of a physical game. Rugby was the international language and enabled bridges to built, based on a sporting context – uniting nations where before there had been misunderstanding and caution. Further photographs are available on the photo gallery.