Rugby League World Cup postponed after withdrawals

Australia and New Zealand withdrew last month and requested a postponement

 The 2021 Rugby League World Cup due to take place in England has been postponed until next year,  two weeks after Australia and New Zealand pulled out. Photograph: Getty Images

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup due to take place in England has been postponed until next year, two weeks after Australia and New Zealand pulled out. Photograph: Getty Images

 

This year’s Rugby League World Cup in England has been postponed until 2022 after last month’s withdrawals of defending champions Australia and New Zealand, tournament organisers said on Thursday.

Australia and New Zealand withdrew citing player welfare and safety concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Australian Rugby League commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) had asked organisers to postpone the October 23rd-November 27th event until next year.

“Rugby League World Cup 2021 and the UK government have today announced their intention to stage the flagship event in the international Rugby League calendar in 2022,” organisers said in a statement.

“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.

“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.”

Rugby Football League (RFL) chairman Simon Johnson had earlier called Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawals “a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision”.

The vaccine rollout has been a success in the UK although Covid-19 infections are increasing post-lockdown, while Australia is also battling outbreaks of Covid-19 albeit on a much smaller scale.

“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,” UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston said.

Australia’s “Kangaroos” have dominated the World Cup, winning eight of the last nine editions dating back to the 1970s. New Zealand, whose top players also compete in the NRL, won the 2008 World Cup hosted by Australia.

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