Rugby League World Cup 2021 has been postponed and will now take place in England next year.

Organisers and the UK Government announced the decision today (Thursday) just weeks after leading nations Australia and New Zealand said they would not participate due to concerns over Covid-19.

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.

In a statement, RLWC2021 organisers said they determined that only a delay would ensure the best competition for fans and players. Details on the new schedule as well as information for ticket holders will be released in the coming weeks, they added, although they will avoid clashing with the football’s FIFA World Cup in November.

Speaking to reporters, Jon Dutton, RLWC2021 chief executive, said that while there will be some financial impacts around rebates and ticketing refunds, these could be alleviated by not having to pay out for charter flights and team quarantine costs, which he does not anticipate will be required in 2022.

He added there will be “some disturbance to the event schedule” but it is expected all the host cities to remain in place, although some games may change venues because of the football season break due to the FIFA World Cup.

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.”

The tournament was scheduled to be held at some 21 venues in England, with the final to be played at Manchester United’s Old Trafford. Leeds United’s Elland Road and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium are due to host the semis, with other Premier League football stadiums, such as Liverpool’s Anfield and Newcastle United’s St James’ Park, also lined up.

UK 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.”

Image: Nat Callaghan on Unsplash