Rugby League World Cup: Organisers defeated as event put back to next year
The 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England has officially been postponed to 2022.
The news had been anticipated since Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament a fortnight ago, citing safety fears amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Organisers initially vowed to press ahead with the tournament in the autumn without two of the big three but were forced to acknowledge defeat as all 16 NRL clubs backed the boycott.
Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton said: “Ultimately, time and competing priorities from others forced us to make the most difficult decision in our six-year history.
“However, we and the sport of Rugby League are resilient, and next year we will deliver our vision of the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup ever.”
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “I am disappointed that we’ve needed to take the decision to delay the Rugby League World Cup.
“Despite working tirelessly to explore solutions that would allow us to go ahead as planned, circumstances beyond our control have meant that postponing the Rugby League World Cup until next year is the strongest option for staging a successful tournament.
“In the best interests of the sport and its millions of supporters around the world, I look forward to the Rugby League authorities in all competing nations accommodating a rearranged tournament in 2022, so we can put on the spectacle the fans deserve.”
A statement read: “Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RLWC2021) and the UK Government have today announced their intention to stage the flagship event in the international Rugby League calendar in 2022.
“The extremely difficult decision was taken by the RLWC2021 Board, which includes representation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the International Rugby League (IRL) Board.
“This follows extensive and urgent consultation conducted by RLWC2021 chief executive officer Jon Dutton and his team, which engaged players, competing nations, the Rugby League Players’ Association (Australia), UK Government, hosts, commercial and broadcast partners.
“Tournament organisers faced several unique and complex challenges with the most significant being the non-release of up to 400 players, match officials and staff members from the NRL competition in Australia.
“This is despite all requests from international rugby league federations having been met which included the rigorous health measures that have been keeping thousands of elite athletes from around the world safe whilst competing in major sporting events across the UK over the last year.
“Ultimately this decision has been detrimental to the plans and ambitions of many of the competing nations and potential replacement teams. A key factor was ensuring that fans of rugby league are able to enjoy the best possible tournament, which was not possible under these circumstances.”
The tournament was due to kick off in Newcastle on October 23 and Dutton, who was fronting an 8am press conference, insisted the vast majority of players remained keen to take part.
“We have always prioritised player voice and player choice,” he said. “We have established a player working group, met with senior players and in the last few days commissioned a player survey to domestic players in Australia and New Zealand that showed more than 85 per cent wanted to compete at RLWC2021 this year.
“However, following the disappointing decision of the ARLC and NZRL to withdraw and the subsequent impact on player availability for other competing nations, it is apparent that delivering the tournament this year would not be feasible.”