Two-time Olympian Philadelphia Olando wants to give the UAE women’s squad the confidence to emulate her and perform on the biggest of international stages.
Olando was appointed UAE coach last month with a mandate to help the development of the women’s game in the country and to pass on her considerable experience.
The 32-year-old called time on her playing career last year, following Kenya’s Rugby World Cup 2021 qualification defeat to Colombia.
#UAERF is pleased to welcome @philaorlando33 to lead 🇦🇪 Emirati Women's teams 💪🏻🏉— UAE Rugby Federation (@uaerugby) February 16, 2022
Philadelphia comes with strong rugby experience, joined the Olympic Games twice Tokyo 2020 & Rio 2016 and World Cup 2018 San Francisco!
Welcome Philadelphia to the @uaerugby family! pic.twitter.com/64HN2kYK2D
Olando had captained the Lionesses to 10th place at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July and represented her country when sevens debuted at the Games in Rio five years previously.
“The UAE is a small country, 1.5 million [people], but I’m not starting from scratch. There’s already a set-up that has started,” she told World Rugby.
“There’s a lot of expertise in the UAE and we want to build the Emirati ladies to play at a certain level. I think it’s just the best because now we get to compete with expertise as we build the local [players].
“So, I think in terms of development it’s on the right path and I think we are heading somewhere.”
Embracing the culture
Olando’s coaching journey began while she was still playing in Kenya, where she took courses in 15s, sevens and strength and conditioning. “I knew I wouldn’t play forever,” she said.
Following cooperation between the UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) and Rugby Africa President Khaled Babbou in the former’s search for a new women’s coach, Olando was asked to send in her CV.
Soon she was in Dubai to start her new job, and after only a few weeks in the role she got her first look at the all-Emirati squad in competitive action during the Arab Women’s Sevens.
The UAE returned home from the tournament in Tunisia at the end of February with a bronze medal.
“It was a good experience and also I got to learn and to understand the girls and also the culture, to embrace everything,” Olando said.
“It was my first experience with them. I had trained with them three or four sessions, but still I took it as a positive impact because I got to share with them my experience.”
It was a pleasing start to Olando’s tenure, and she has been impressed with the work being done by the UAERF to help grow the game among the Emirati community.
Olando hopes to build on those foundations and in the long-term convince her players that qualification for the Olympics and Rugby World Cups is not beyond their grasp.
“They’ve started going into the local Emirati schools and the public schools, and they’ve introduced the game,” she said.
“My aim is just to build on the [foundations] of the growth of the game and also to share with them that we can also be the next Olympians.
“If we put in a good strategy, which I think the UAE federation has done, and play more tournaments and play more games, I believe we will be able to compete globally and play big teams.
“If we need results, on and off the pitch [we need to] reposition the environment, culture and expectation. If we want to be successful with the team, we want to be competitors and then contenders.”
Olando is confident that qualifying for Olympics or Rugby World Cups is a feasible goal, as long as she is able to build the system needed to achieve it.
“We can actually do that because I'm looking forward to improving as a squad in terms of tournaments and working with the young age group to ensure continuity and long-term player development,” she added.
“Because it's not just something I want to do with the set-up that I've found. If we have the continuity whereby we are using the same system to build the young girls out there, I think the growth will be there. Achieving that will be possible.”