With a history of over 35 years in Rugby, George Nicholson’s career impressively spans right across the spectrum of the sport.
Although his experience officially encompasses 22 years as a player and 14 years as a referee, those who know George, know he is a man of many more ‘hats’. From captaining the Barbados Men’s side, touring with the West Indies team, refereeing and coaching match officials at RAN tournaments, becoming both the Barbados Rugby Football Union (BRFU) President and Vice President, to his appointment as a RAN EXCO Member, RAN Secretary, and the Manager of the Local Organizing Committee for Rugby Barbados World 7s (RBW7s), it’s clear Nicholson lives and breathes the ‘Rugby is life’ philosophy.
Not only is George committed to every facet of Rugby, the 53-year-old Engineer is also a familiar face within the wider community in Barbados due to his tireless outreach efforts; employing the notorious Rugby spirit to be his ‘brother’s keeper’ in whatever way he can.
Starting out …
George started playing Rugby at 16 years of age while attending The International School of Kuala Lumpur during his father’s sabbatical in South East Asia. “As soon as I was introduced to the Rugby culture, I just knew it would be a lifelong commitment,” he says.
After returning to Barbados a year later and bitten by the Rugby bug, Nicholson convinced his Games Master to restart the school Rugby programme and it was while George was playing in the Secondary School’s Rugby Competition that his talent was spotted by the Barbados National Rugby Coach. He was invited to start training with the National team, and so began a Rugby journey that would last over three decades.
During his career, George has accumulated many stand out memories including officiating at the USA Sevens in Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, playing with the 2005 Caribbean Region Champions Barbados in the Regional Final, touring to Leicester with the Barbados National Team for the 2007 Rugby World Cup (RWC) Qualifiers training camp, playing against Canada in Barbados and against the USA in San Francisco in the 2007 RWC Qualifiers, and refereeing in Guyana at the 2012 NAWIRA Men’s Championship Final.
“While all of these milestones are memorable, one of the biggest highlights has to be captaining Barbados in the 1999 RWC Qualifier against Bermuda,” he says. “Being selected and touring with the Rugby West Indies 15-a-side team in England in 2000 was very exciting for me too.”
A new chapter …
In 2006, after 23 years on the field, George’s Rugby playing days officially ended. However, his active participation with the game continued in a refereeing capacity.
Nicholson went on to referee and serve as Coach of Match Officials at RAN 15s, 7s and 10s tournaments, where he has also been a Tournament organizer. He represented the Caribbean Region as an Assistant Referee and In Goal Judge at the Los Angeles HSBC 7s, San Diego HSBC 7s and Las Vegas Invitational 7s, and refereed the final of the 2012 RAN Caribbean 2015 RWC Qualifiers in Guyana. Notably, George acted as Assistant Referee for Craig Joubert in the RAN Caribbean 2015 RWC Qualifying match in Mexico City; the first 2015 RWC Qualifying match worldwide.
As time went by, George branched out into roles within the Rugby administration, serving as BRFU President between 2008-2014 and Vice President between 2015-2016. He was elected to the Executive Committee of NAWIRA (subsequently NACRA and now RAN) in 2008 and has served on the regional Executive Committee for 12 consecutive years in varying capacities; currently as RAN Secretary and as one of two Category ‘C’ Representatives.
Ever ambitious and keen to keep his finger in as many ‘Rugby pies’ as possible, for the past six years Nicholson has additionally held the title of Manager of the Local Organizing Committee for RBW7s – one of the most highly-anticipated tournaments on the Rugby events calendar.
“I remain so actively involved because I genuinely love the sport and all that comes with it,” he says. “Rugby has given me so much – obviously things like travel, meeting different people, and experiencing different cultures, but the ‘Rugby mentality’ has given me an inner strength to fight through some of the most challenging times in my life. There’s also a tight-knit camaraderie and strong support network that is so unique to the Rugby family.”
Reaching out …
George’s camaraderie extends to the local community in Barbados where he is well-known for lending support to various goodwill initiatives and despite his busy schedule, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Nicholson helped to raise $20,000 BBD ($10,000 USD) through the 2018 RBW7s Charity Dinner and Auction in association with The Rotary Club of Barbados South, with $10,000 BBD ($5,000 USD) donated to the national ‘Sport for Life Program’. The following year, he again assisted in fundraising $10,000 BBD ($5,000 USD) for the Barbados Cancer Society through the RBW7s Gavin Clark Memorial Charity Golf Tournament.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Barbados in 2020, George was of course ‘all hands on deck’. This time, in the design and construction of the Harrison’s Point national COVID-19 Isolation Facility and was also one of the driving forces behind an initiative to secure a donation of 96 tablets for Barbados’ school children to continue their online learning.
This year, George has stepped into a new role as ‘Volunteer Chef’ with the COVID Volunteers Barbados group, preparing 40-50 meals and sandwiches each week for Frontline Workers. In addition, he has helped raise over $7,000 BBD ($3500 USD) in cash and in-kind donations to support this food drive and more recently for gifts for the Frontline Workers in recognition of the one year anniversary of the fight against COVID-19 in Barbados.
When asked what drives his deep spirit of giving, George says, “It’s about the team in Rugby, and it’s about the community in life. In Rugby and in life, we are only as strong as our weakest link. We must uplift those who may be falling short so that we can all succeed.”
Looking to the future …
As a passionate Rugby man, Nicholson is always looking for ways to develop his beloved sport and says the next generation are the key.
“Barbados has a number of local players who have been offered Rugby scholarships to prestigious American Universities which is paving the way for more young people to engage with the sport,” he says.
One such player is George’s son, Zayn, who was the first Barbadian player to earn such an accolade.
“I’ve seen first-hand how international opportunities can assist a player from a ‘smaller’ part of the world,” he says. “We need more of these kind of breaks for our young regional players, from both a recruitment and retention perspective.”
Nicholson also advocates for increasing inter-island club competitions to provide opportunities for players to participate in the wider Rugby fraternity and to experience a diversity of playing styles to elevate the standard Rugby in the Caribbean.
“My ultimate vision is for West Indies Rugby teams to compete at the international level,” he says. “Each country has players that can make it on the world stage and if we can continue to provide developmental opportunities, we can show the world our region is a force to be reckoned with.”
With George helping to steer the ship, anything is possible.