Limerick a potential venue for 2021 Rugby League World Cup
England hosting tournament but games could be staged in Ireland and France
England captain Sam Burgess carries during his side’s World Cup final defeat to Australia. Photograph: Matt King/Getty
The organisers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup have received 40 expressions of interest from potential host venues, including several inquiries from enticing areas outside England.
The Rugby League International Federation awarded the tournament to England last year ahead of a competing bid from the US. But matches could be played outside the host country, with venues in France and Ireland – including Perpignan, Avignon and Limerick – understood to have expressed interest in hosting games.
Jon Dutton, the chief executive of the tournament, told the Guardian they have been inundated with interest in England and beyond. He said: “The contract with the government [which pledged £15m of financial support for England’s bid] is to stage the tournament in England but if a strong bid came forward somewhere else we’ve got to listen to it.
“We’ve been really pleased, and even quite surprised, with the interest. We’re up to 40 potential venues now, which is great. It continues to rise, and we’ll have workshops in January where these towns and cities will find out how to put their bid together, then they’ve got seven months to put it into place.”
Of interest expressed from areas outside the host country, Dutton said: “Yes, we’ve got towns and cities elsewhere who are interested.”
At the 2017 World Cup tournament – hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand – games were played in Papua New Guinea, while France hosted two matches in the 2013 event, for which the UK had been granted host rights.
The towns and cities which lodge applications for the 2021 tournament will discover their fate by the end of next year, with that list to be whittled down to 14 when the 2021 team make their decisions. The backbone of England’s bid detailed that 80 per cent of matches would be played across the northern heartlands of rugby league – but areas such as London and Coventry are near-guarantees to be given matches, too.
“We will absolutely stage games in London – we have made that commitment,” Dutton said. “London is critically important to us.”
Wembley, which is in contention to host the 2021 final along with Old Trafford, will almost certainly be given a high-profile game, while the London Stadium, which has hosted international rugby league in recent years, is also in the mix.
The convoluted structure of this year’s World Cup tournament attracted criticism when Ireland failed to qualify from their group despite two wins from their three games while Samoa, who earned a solitary point, reached the quarter-finals. Dutton, however, said the increase to 16 teams in 2021 would result in a much more straightforward tournament.
“We’re going to keep it simple; we’ll have four groups of four,” he said. “That’s something that everyone across the world can recognise and resonate with. It also eliminates any unfortunate possibilities that arose this time.”
The Rugby Football League, meanwhile, is expected to reveal on Tuesday that Toronto will switch their regular-season Championship fixture with Toulouse to the Magic Weekend – the first time in its decade-long history that the event has hosted a non-Super League fixture. The Wolfpack, the first transatlantic team in rugby league, will play in the sport’s second tier in 2018 after winning promotion from League 1 in their inaugural season this year.