Wood’s strategic vision for international Rugby League

INTERNATIONAL Rugby League chief executive Nigel Wood’s vision is of a genuinely open and competitive World Cup being the pinnacle of a busy calendar featuring a meaningful global tournament every year.
The former Rugby Football League chief executive, who has been in his current post since May 2018, sees Nines as a key element of his plan to expand the sport, both for men and women, and his organisation.
But in an interview given to the IRL Podcast, Wood said there must still be room for nations to arrange fixtures between themselves.
With the next World Cup – to be held in England and involving 16 nations, two more than the last two tournaments – less than two years away, Wood said: “All self-respecting sports should crown World Champions.
“The Rugby League World Cup is the second oldest major World Cup competition after soccer. However it is only in the past ten years that we have understood and started to fully exploit the opportunities offered by a successful tournament.”
Wood believes Tonga’s recent wins over Australia and Great Britain and the rise of their fellow 2017 World Cup semi-finalists Fiji, as well as that of Samoa and Papua New Guinea, is great news for the game.
“We are seeking to have at least eight fully-fledged contenders for every World Cup, and we should celebrate the success of the Pacific,” he added.
“I would like to see a world event every year, whether that is a full World Cup, an Emerging Nations, a Nines or one of the many World Cups for groups such as students, armed forces and so on.
“And every second year we should have regional events. In 2020 we will be running European Championships, Middle East Africa Championship, Oceania Cup and Americas Championship.
“That gives us a very strong programme for players, fans and, very importantly, for TV and commercial partners, because we have to earn income to invest into growth.”
In the wake of the recent Downer Nines World Cup in Australia, Wood said: “There should be a World Nines circuit.
“A well-organised Nines circuit supports the opening up of new territories. Clearly there are some exciting developments in North America. We are also in active discussion with the Middle East to understand those markets.”
Gaining membership of the Global Association of International Sports Federations is also a priority for Wood.
“It is an enabler,” he explained.
“Membership is long overdue and is important because when a national federation speaks to its own national government, almost their first question is ‘which world body recognises you as a sport?’.
“GAISF is one of those bodies. To gain membership one criteria is to have 40 member nations. However, there is a chicken and egg situation in that we sometimes struggle to show a national federation without recognition from GAISF!”
Wood continued: “The reality is the IRL is quite young and has only had any full-time staff for the past four years. We are catching up with where we should be.
“An example of where we are struggling to catch up is the rate of growth of the women’s game, which is why we have taken the decision to organise a Women’s Emerging Nations in 2021. In 2018 it hardly existed.”