World Rugby has announced it will seek to postpone New Zealand’s 2021 Rugby World Cup until next year due to ongoing concerns over the “uncertain and challenging” global COVID-19 situation.

The women’s edition of the rugby union showpiece was due to be held from September 18 to October 16 and World Rugby’s announcement comes after tournament organisers in January revealed plans to break the attendance record for the tournament after the match schedule was confirmed.

New Zealand was awarded hosting rights to the event in November 2018 and in February 2020 it was announced the World Cup would be held at three stadia – Waitakere Stadium in Henderson, Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre and Auckland’s Eden Park.

However, World Rugby has now announced its recommendation to postpone will be considered by the Rugby World Cup Board and World Rugby Executive Committee at meetings on March 8-9.

World Rugby said: “While appreciating the recommendation is extremely disappointing for teams and fans, it has their interests at heart, and gives the tournament the best opportunity to be all it can be for them, all New Zealanders and the global rugby family.

“The recommendation is based on the evolution of the uncertain and challenging global COVID-19 landscape. It has become clear in recent discussions with key partners including New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand Government and participating unions, that, given the scale of the event and the COVID-19-related uncertainties, it is just not possible to deliver the environment for all teams to be the best that they can be on the sport’s greatest stage.

“The challenges include uncertainty and the ability for teams to prepare adequately for a Rugby World Cup tournament both before and on arrival in New Zealand, and challenging global travel restrictions. 

“World Rugby can assure teams, New Zealanders and the global rugby family that the recommendation to postpone the tournament will help to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2021 will be all it can be next year for players, fans and the rugby family – one of the great Rugby World Cups.”

New Zealand Rugby last year lost hosting rights for the Rugby Championship to Australia after the government was deemed to have requested too stringent regulations around managed isolation for visiting teams.

The start of sailing’s 36th America’s Cup has also been postponed as host city Auckland went into a seven-day COVID-19 lockdown on Sunday after two new cases were located in the community which could not be directly connected to earlier cases. The sailing contest between Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was scheduled to commence on the weekend of March 6-7.

In response to World Rugby’s announcement, the Government has announced that it remains committed to New Zealand’s staging of the World Cup. Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson said: “We all wanted the tournament to go ahead as planned this year, but we also accept that the current COVID-19 constrained circumstances are not ideal for high performance athletes in a tournament situation.

“Also, preparation for the tournament in many countries has been limited, and some qualifying matches have not been able to be played. This means that many athletes in other countries will not be getting the training or the game time they need in the lead up to this major tournament.

“Ultimately this is a decision for World Rugby to make. If they do postpone we are fully committed to hosting the event next year. The Government is supporting NZ Rugby’s hosting of the tournament with financial contributions through the Major Events Development Fund and Sport New Zealand. That support will remain in place for 2022.”

Image: World Rugby