Tas Baiteri is not about to rest on his laurels after being awarded life membership by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF).
The NRL’s international development manager, who became involved in the international game in 1985 when only five nations played, believes there is a golden opportunity for Rugby League to push into Asia and is keen to make it happen.
“That’s where I think we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go to Asia,” Baiteri said.
“That’s where all the sponsors are, that’s where the most-wealthiest people in the world are.
“And they love our game, that one-on-one defensive aspect of our game is what’s honourable for the Asians to look at.”
Baiteri said it would take as little as $250,000 in funding to make a dent in growing the international game and that India, Japan and Thailand represented huge growth areas.
The NSWRL has already had success with a program aimed specifically at getting children from Asia involved in Rugby League, and Baiteri said the assistance the NSWRL has provided in Emerging Nations tournaments has also helped grow the game in other developing countries.
“In five years time India is going to be the biggest-populated country in the world and they want to play our game,” Baiteri said.
“We’re just chipping away at the bottom of the tree and putting in small building blocks to get it started.
“Japan has been going for 25 years, never grown, but since the Emerging Nations event that NSWRL helped manage, they’ve had an influx of people that want to play the game.
“When you look at where Japan is compared to India on the other side of Asia, that land mass of people is just phenomenal for us to get into.”
He also said he was honoured to be recognised for his lifetime work and dedication in promoting the international game but believed the praise would be better directed at a more deserving party.
“I really appreciate it but at the end of the day it’s the people on the other side of the fence that are doing all the work, the volunteers, they’re using their own money,” Baiteri said.
“You’re just there facilitating a lot of that but at the end of the day it’s what happens on the other side that contributes to what we’ve reached to.
“They should get a lot of accolades for what they’re doing too but no-one talks about them and that’s the issue.”