Organisers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England have confirmed today (Thursday) that the event will go ahead as scheduled, although defending champion Australia has not yet agreed to take part.
It had been suggested that the tournament would be postponed until 2022 due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions for players travelling from Australia and New Zealand.
Jon Dutton, chief executive of the Rugby League World Cup organising committee, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s rugby league podcast that Australia has not yet signed a participation agreement. Dutton did add that organisers are “incredibly confident” Australia will eventually sign the agreement.
Any players or staff returning to Australia and New Zealand would have to quarantine for 14 days following the tournament. Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) had reportedly been pushing for a postponement as the quarantine rules would impact preparations for its 2022 season, but it has now been confirmed that the tournament will go ahead as planned.
The World Cup will see the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments take place simultaneously for the first time. The event is due to be held from October 23 to November 27, with Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, to stage the men’s and women’s finals.
Dutton said: “We have an overwhelming desire to deliver the biggest and best ever Rugby League World Cup and through our determination and decisiveness we will be able to achieve this vision.
“We recognise there are still many challenges ahead, but we will work relentlessly and will take the most extraordinary measures with the support of all involved to stage the tournament in 100 days’ time.
“Despite the adversity we have faced, we have never lost sight of our core purpose of making a positive impact on people’s lives. Our social impact programme has and will continue to be a beacon of much needed positivity and hope in communities across England.
“We have no doubt that the rugby league family, along with the 20,021 key workers we have invited, the many fans who will see the action live in the stadiums across England and the millions watching around the world will be part of a unifying celebration of sport and humanity.”
The opening match of the Rugby League World Cup will see host England take on Samoa at St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United. Other venues scheduled to host matches during the tournament include Emirates Stadium (pictured), Anfield and Elland Road.