Lagos Haven captain Azuka Chika Kelvin believes the enormous potential of Rugby League in Nigeria can only be fully realised with increased government and private sector investment and getting more actors involved at the grassroots level.
Kelvin’s side leads the Southern Conference of the 2020-21 Nigeria Rugby League but they like other clubs in the league have had to play on makeshift sandy fields as there are currently no grass pitches fit to host games.
It is a situation he would love to see change very soon and he says all stakeholders including the Nigeria Rugby League Association, the Sports Ministry and private sector actors must work together to create the enabling conditions to grow the game which was only formalised in the country in 2018.
“We hope to see something more than this,” he told busybuddiesng.com about the need for better facilities. “Obviously, we are in a baby stage, but we believe in the future and keep doing what we’re doing. Everybody here is a stakeholder. We’re looking towards two, three years down the line when we start having the government and the private sector come in and put in their own support whereby we can be using more of grass, and selling the game in our community.
“Me waking up one day and looking at the rugby league, the players, the fans, and having like 200, 300 fans, that would give me joy.”
A key component of growing the game involves propagating the sport at the grassroots level and Kelvin says Haven together with the NRLA have been working with schools in Lagos to introduce the game to young students and put the building blocks in place to see more people take up the sport to ensure “that someday, we’re going to have Rugby League in Nigeria go global, worldwide”.
“In the future, we believe that someday the grassroots will take over from us that are right here. So what we do is go to the schools and initiate the game into them,” he says.
It hasn’t always been easy with some schools responding more favourably than others but despite how frustrating the task can get, Kelvin says Haven remain undeterred in their quest to spread the gospel of Rugby League and is pleased with their progress which has seen them partner with four schools in Lagos with more in the offing.
“[There have been] difficulties whereby we’re having schools, sometimes be like, “Come back tomorrow.” Probably the principal or the schools are not buying the game. Instead of us breaking down our spirits, it kind of lifts us up. We keep knocking on every door, hoping that someday, we’re going to have Rugby League in Nigeria go global, worldwide.
“So far, so good, Lagos Haven has got four schools under their umbrella. We’re doing great. Nice response from the coaches, nice response from the principals so far.”