By James Vukmirovic
The CEO of the Rugby League International Federation sees a bright future in the lead up to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
Speaking at half-time at the European Championship match between Scotland and Wales on Friday, Nigel Wood showed his pride at the number of countries playing International matches across the world.
He said: “It’s a wonderful time of year to see Rugby League being played all over the globe.
“For example, we had an emerging nations World Cup where 11 countries you’d never believe played International Rugby League, played out a great tournament in Sydney and, of course, we’ve got some of the heavyweights in Australia, England, New Zealand and Tonga playing games.
“With all this and the World Cup qualifiers in the Americas, where there’s a South American side in Chile playing for the first time, there’s probably more international Rugby League being played now than ever before.
“Over 40 nations have played in the last year and that’s a great story for the sport.”
Amongst the nations playing internationally this year include Chile, who have entered World Cup qualifying for the first time, and teams from the Emerging Nations World Cup such as the Solomon Islands, Philippines and Niue, with Niue going all the way to the final, where they narrowly lost to Malta.
Looking forward, Wood feels the game can continue to expand and build more members.
The federation is looking to have over 50 nations playing internationally next year and is in the process of applying for recognition by the Global Organisation of International Sport Federations.
He added: “We should be proud of our sport. We have a great sport that young men and young women want to play, with a developing Wheelchair version, so there’s no reason why International Rugby League shouldn’t go from strength to strength.”
The RLIF is holding its annual Congress in York this week, starting on Wednesday 7 November, and expect to have between 20 and 30 nations represented.
Wood spoke of the importance of the event.
He said: “It is an annual event that we put on and it’s an opportunity for us as a board of directors to be held accountable to our members, to set out our vision for the future, to answer any questions from and support the nations and to set out what the international calendar should be.
“There’s a big discussion on governance as there’s so many nations that want to be part of our family and we want to make sure our governance is right for such a diverse community and it’s a great chance for the international community to get together.”
With qualification already underway for the 2021 World Cup in England, Wood described what would be a successful World Cup for him.
“More people watching than before, more viewers watching than before and more people in the stadiums than before, more legitimate heavyweights playing the sport and actually taking the competition deep and creating some real jeopardy from the quarterfinals onwards,” he said.