Nigel Wood takes Bradford to Nigeria

James Gordon
Bradford in Nigeria

Former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood is no stranger to travelling when it comes to rugby league.

His latest trip has taken him to Africa to provide equipment and Bradford Bulls shirts to the Ibudo Academy.

The now Bradford chairman was joined by Bradford community leader Dr Manoj Joshi MBE and Graham Swain, a Bradford community award winner.

In Lagos they met old Bradfordian Megha Joshi, now in politics in Nigeria, and were introduced to the Ibudo Academy.

Wood said: “It was truly humbling to see so much joy and enthusiasm demonstrated by these young people for whom life chances are so few and far between.

“The facilities were basic and raw, and the players were barefoot but the commitment could not have been surpassed. Seeing how much joy they took from such a small gift brought a tear to my eye.”

Under 12s and Under 16s teams took the pitch to show off their rugby league skills. The trip was backed by the University of Bradford, who along with the Bulls have come together to provide sponsorship for the school in Lagos.

Michael Ogunbiyi, Founder of Ibudo Academy said: “We would like to thank Nigel and the team from Bradford who took time to support the kids rugby league games as they played alongside five other schools in the Lagos Rugby League Schools League, run by Ibudo Academy.

“Around 120 kids came out during the day and hugely benefited from the occasion. It was a huge step for grassroots rugby in Lagos, which now has 18 schools participating.

“A big thank you to Bradford Bulls as well as the University of Bradford for making it possible.”

Nigeria are involved in the Middle East-Africa qualifiers for the 2025 World Cup. They have already won through the first round, beating Cameroon and Ghana.

In the next phase, they will play against Lebanon, South Africa and Ghana, with the best placed team other than Lebanon progressing to an intercontinental play-off against Cook Islands for a place in the tournament.

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International expansion

Rugby league continues to try and reach out to new markets, though it awaits mainstream success.

During Wood’s tenure as RFL chief executive, he oversaw the introduction of Toronto Wolfpack to the RFL pyramid, and was also very supportive of the inclusion of Catalans Dragons more than a decade prior.

Even after his departure from the governing body, Wood did some work in exploring the possibility of further North American clubs joining, including New York and the eventually COVID-hit Ottawa Aces. He was part of a delegation that visited New York in January 2018 and submitted recommendations to the RFL.

Then in 2020, he insisted that rugby league needed a strategy for North America, rather than relying on one or two individuals to fund teams.

Wood was chairman of the International Rugby League federation between 2014 and 2020. He received criticism on his growing involvement at Bradford in the early years, following his role in the RFL becoming responsible for the lease at Odsal Stadium.

His time at the RFL resulted in a handsome pay-off, but not after a petition for his resignation from disgruntled fans.

After Wood departed, he was replaced by Ralph Rimmer, who left earlier this year. His replacement has again been appointed from within, with interim Tony Sutton now becoming the permanent RFL chief executive after a ‘widespread search’.

That has prompted further criticism from people who have accused the RFL of providing “jobs for the boys”.

The International Rugby League, which Wood departed in 2020, now boasts 51 member nations.