ADE Adebisi is celebrating putting Nigeria on the rugby league map – after giving up his job and battling a potentially fatal condition.
The former London Broncos player has spent two years trying to get the African nation involved with the 13-a-side code for no money.
Now his work has landed the rights to host a key tournament on the road to the 2025 World Cup, Adebisi believes the millions of Nigerians are ready to add a new dimension to the traditionally northern English game.
Not bad considering he hopes to discover and nurture the next Martin Offiah against the backdrop of battling blood disorder sickle cell anaemia.
Adebisi said: “I quit my job and moved everything over there, I even came back to the UK but chose to head back over there as it’s a really big opportunity to show the world what Nigerians are capable of doing.
“I had the chance to come back and start a job but another opportunity came up and I thought, ‘I need to go back.’ I went for two years without a salary. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change it for a thing.”
Adebisi has got his reward after Nigeria was named as host of next year’s Middle Eastern and African championships, a key stage on the road to qualification for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.
Jamaica’s qualification for the 2021 tournament in England is sure to add a new dimension, and maybe fans, to the sport – Nigeria’s potential may be even bigger and they have already agreed a deal with sports development agency Ballympics, with Toyota in Africa ready to get on board with an educational programme.
Adebisi, who worked as a service manager at Heathrow Airport before leaving, added: “Nigeria has a population of more than 198 million people living in Nigeria and about one million in London alone.
“Obviously, there are a lot of players in the UK who qualify for Nigeria but also plenty of players in Australia, six of whom play for NRL teams and if we can get kids at a young age, we could definitely create the next Martin Offiah.”
World domination for Nigeria is one thing, just surviving is another for Adebisi.
Sickle cell anaemia means he produces unusually-shaped red blood cells that can cause problems because they do not live as long as healthy blood cells and they can become stuck in blood vessels.
But the 32-year-old is the only known rugby league star to play despite the condition and he hopes his work on and off the field can inspire others – and the Toyota deal will see them introduce a vital screening scheme called Sickle Scan.
He said: “When people hear that a certain person has sickle cell, they basically get condemned.
“It’s a massive shame and people look at you like you are walking with a stigma but for me, to say I can prove people wrong and have a professional career for almost 15 years with that condition means I could say to all people with sickle cell what they can do.
“It’s not just about rugby league for me, I have sickle cell and this is what I’ve done in my career. If you can manage it properly, you can do anything and mixing rugby with this is amazing. One of my goals is to erradicate the stigma.”
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