DUBAI // Rugby players and fans were out in force yesterday for a tournament to raise awareness of the victims of the recent tsunami that devastated parts of Samoa. The former New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns, who recently moved to Dubai, and the dual code rugby international Apollo Perelini, who coaches at the Elite Sporting Academy, Repton School, joined about 100 residents, including expatriate Samoans and South Pacific islanders, at The Sevens ground.
The touch rugby event was held to highlight the plight of those trying to rebuild their lives. Tui Raeli, 35, a former professional player from New Zealand, whose wife and parents are from Samoa, said the tournament gave him an opportunity to do something constructive. "My immediate family are OK but, unfortunately, we had friends and extended family who were not as lucky," he said. "My in-laws there have been helping with the relief effort and that has been awful. My father-in-law has found it very difficult. He has recovered bodies of young children still in their school uniforms."
Mr Raeli said the tournament was about gathering together as a community and helping the people of Samoa. The tsunami on September 30 killed 143 people. Seven remain missing and 60 are in hospital. Villages along the southern coast of Upolu island were flattened. Cars remain crushed against trees and power poles have been uprooted. Netia Goode, 30, a native of Samoa who moved to Dubai with her husband two years ago, said almost everyone back home knew someone affected by the disaster.
"My mum's friend died and so did my aunt's half-sister," she said. "It was horrible. She was swept away by a wave. They had got into a truck, her mother was in the front with her husband and she was sat in the back. A wave knocked her back and she was lost. "When I heard the news I had to go and stay with my friend. You feel so helpless, you can't get in a car and take water or clothing. "I grew up on those beaches, I went there with my family, later my friends as a teenager. I got married and went with my husband."
Cairns, considered to be one of the world's best all-round cricketers, said while he was only a "very social" rugby player, on hearing about the event from friends in the Dubai Hurricanes team, he felt compelled to join in. "I'm from that part of the world and so I'm here to support the Samoan people in need during such a tragedy," he said. "Anything I can do to help, really. When you're from that part of the world you feel an affiliation and association, when you live in such a small community."
The tournament was the first of two. The second will take place in London next Saturday. Yesterday's event was organised by the Samoan coaches at the Elite academy. Supporters took along non-food items to kick off a month-long donation drive. The academy's John Mamea-Wilson recently returned from Samoa, where he and a team of coaches held scholarship trials. He said: "When we heard, the first thing I did was to ring the boy we are bringing over, Jason, to check that he was safe. That was a bit of a concern for us. He was OK, and the good thing is that he is still keen to come here to Dubai."
Mrs Goode is helping to organise a stall at next weekend's flea market at Al Mamzar Park. Another event is being planned for Al Ain before the end of the month. On Friday, a mass funeral was held in the Samoan capital Apia as the clean-up operation continued. firstname.lastname@example.org