By Clare Barrell (Senior International Relations Advisor) & Paul Evans (International Relations Manager)
Have you ever sat in an airport departure gate with a live DJ spinning the decks and air stewardesses handing out chocolates? Us neither, but then again, we had never flown to Nigeria on Nigerian Independence Day before and it certainly set the tone for an eventful few days! We headed to Lagos, Nigeria as part of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RLWC2021) International Development Programme (IDP) Nigeria chapter. The IDP initiative is designed to grow the game at all levels and support the long-term prosperity of the sport in developing Rugby League nations across the globe. Forming part of the World Cup 2021 bid commitment from the Rugby Football League (RFL) it is delivered in partnership with UK Sport, RLWC2021 and the Rugby League International Federation, with representatives from each organisation out in Lagos to see the programme in action.
On arrival in Lagos (population 17.5 million) we were immediately struck by the energy, humidity and the noise of bustling people going about their business in what felt like chaotic unison, whilst we picked up our ride to the hotel. There is no rushing in a Lagosian ‘rush hour’ and as we crawled through the early morning smog avoiding people, livestock, broken down trucks and huge pot holes, we were struck by the thousands of commuters standing in groups along the way, smartly turned out waiting patiently to pick up transport into town. Sitting in traffic was a consistent theme of the visit, although after a while you accept it takes about 60 minutes to go in one direction and 8 minutes to come back!
History was made in Lagos with the first ever Middle East and African Championships taking place, with the hosts the eventual winners defeating Morocco 38-10. Wrapped around this tournament the visit included; two half day workshops led by the RLWC2021 team and attended by representatives from eight African nations covering important topics including, governance, safeguarding and event management, a community engagement event at Toyibat Comprehensive High School for boys and girls; a Coaches and Game Officials training course; a function hosted by the Deputy High Commission and attended by important stakeholders and partners in Nigeria, and a visit to the President of the Nigerian National Olympic Committee and his team to build supportive relationships for the future. The star of the visit was undoubtedly the official World Cup Trophy which accompanied the team everywhere, providing an immediate conversation starter and a permanent centre of attention.
Tracy Power, Legacy Director of the RLWC2021, said: “The trip to Nigeria was one to remember. Having eight African nations participate in the RLWC2021 International Development Programme was fantastic and shows the desire and commitment these nations have for Rugby League. We received a very warm welcome in Lagos, it was great to be able to boost excitement for Rugby League in the local communities as well as seeing some of the emerging nations talent on show in the Middle East and African Championships.
"The visit was another successful trip for our International Development Programme, helping to raise the profile and visibility of the sport, sharing best practice and building support networks between nations around the world.”
Lagos, in all its’ glory, provided an unique and exhilarating host for the IDP initiative which moves to Brazil later in the year. The RLWC2021 will stage, for the first time in history, the men’s, women’s and wheelchair rugby league competitions at the same time and the IDP aims to support and showcase all 3 areas of the game across 16 different nations.
For further information please visit https://www.rlwc2021.com/
RLWC2021 IDP is part of UK Sport’s International Partnerships Programme, which helps NGBs build strategic relations with their world governing bodies and targeted national federations in more than 40 countries around the world through collaborative partnerships and projects. It is an integral part of UK Sport’s international relations strategy, which ensures that the UK has a strong, respected and supportive voice in international sport. Strategic benefits to Rugby Football League (RFL) through the IDP include closer relations with International Rugby League (IRL) , new partnerships with regional rugby league federations; enhanced profile and reputation as an NGB and Organising Committee committed to the growth of their sport; CPD opportunities for RFL and RLWC2021 personnel; and a defining international legacy element to the World Cup in 2021.