In the lead up to the second Middle East and Africa Championship, to be held in Nigeria for the first time from 2-5th October 2019, bids have been received to host the 2020 tournament from four nations.
They are Lebanon – who won the first MEA tournament; South Africa – who are looking to play in it for the first time; fellow potential debutants Burundi; and Nigeria once more.
Competing this year in Lagos are the hosts, Cameroon, Ghana and Morocco, whilst the 2020 Championship will see the competition revert to a regular two-year cycle.
“South Africa can be significant for rugby league internationally,” said SARL president Frans Erasmus. “We have the potential to become a major player and a lot to offer as a destination. Hosting the MEA Championship will support developing our presence on the sporting landscape here.”
Chairman of Burundi Rugby League XIII, Jean de Christ Rusiga noted: “Sport is our nation’s best ambassador and staging the 2020 MEA Championship would see all the people get behind us and the game of rugby league, we have some special things planned for our guests if we were to be selected.”
Chris Thair, RLEF general manager and responsible for the organisation of the Championship commented: “The strategic importance of the 2019 and 2020 MEA Championships is two-fold. Firstly, to establish a strong competition which is the flagship international tournament for the region and, secondly, to help move a number of the national federations from observer status to affiliate members in preparation for 2022.
“The 2022 MEA Championships will form part of the 2025 World Cup qualification process, which will only involve affiliate or full member nations. It is therefore essential that the next two years of competition go well and, most importantly, aspiring nations can progress.”
Thair added: “Having just completed the annual audits for 2018, early indications are that Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Morocco are on track to achieve that before 2022, and therefore join Lebanon and South Africa. With Burundi and Congo also showing the potential to progress, then the MEA region is becoming an exciting place for rugby league.”
Karl Bistany, Lebanon Rugby League Federation international committee chairman said: “This is the way to increase our global reach and improve inclusivity within our community and key partners. Commercially, hosting the MEA Championship will provide more sponsor interest and supporters with opportunities to get further involved in the sport.”
The decision on hosting will be taken in 30 September 2019 by RLEF Board.