The International Rugby League (IRL) has today (Wednesday) announced that Qatar is one of four nations to have expressed initial interest in becoming the new host of its 2025 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).
IRL, the sport’s world governing body, is seeking a new destination for its showpiece tournament after France pulled out of hosting on Monday due to funding-related issues. France was awarded hosting rights back in January 2022, but the French Rugby League Federation (FFR XIII) said that, despite the work carried out by the organising committee, it would not be possible to provide a guarantee for the risk of loss for the event.
It came after the conditions initially set out to secure the economic viability of the event were not met, with additional time and funding provided to the organising committee by the French Government.
The IRL held a board meeting to discuss the matter today, stating that initial declarations of interest have been received from Qatar, along with New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji. Qatar, with no history in rugby league, is the headline name, with the country seeking to attract sporting events in an effort to justify the infrastructure spend to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking after the board meeting, IRL chair Troy Grant admitted that the high temperatures in Qatar around October and November, when the tournament would likely take place, could play a part in any decision-making process.
“I haven’t looked at the temperatures there,” he said, according to The Guardian. “But ours would be slightly earlier than the football (World Cup) so seasonal conditions would be tough, I’d imagine.
“They’re the kind of factors we need to consider. We’ve no due diligence to give any expression of interest their due course of credit. We haven’t made any assessment in regards to the viability of them.”
England hosted the most recent World Cup last year, with the event delayed by 12 months after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand from a 2021 tournament. England 2021 created history in becoming the first RLWC to have men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments running alongside each other.
France had committed to following this template, with the addition of a youth event, for 2025 and Grant conceded this could be difficult to continue for a new host in the same calendar slot, given the challenging timeframe involved.
“The uniqueness of three World Cups being run at the same time was something that drew record investment,” he said. “We’re the only sport that’s conducted our World Cup format like that and it stood us aside from other sports. It’s a massive selling point, so to abandon that strategy would be disappointing, but we have to be practical in any decisions we make going forward.”
New Zealand co-hosted the 2017 RLWC with Australia and Papua New Guinea, and in the wake of Monday’s news Greg Peters, chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), confirmed that discussions were underway with the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) over another potential joint bid that could also involve Pacific Island nations.
Fiji’s bid is said to be government-backed, with an IRL strategy and governance committee now set to meet next month. A decision on the 2025 RLWC, whether that be a new host, postponement by a year or outright cancellation, is expected to be made at a board meeting in July.
“We’ve done no due diligence at this stage on any of those expressions of interest,” said Grant, according to the BBC. “It gives me comfort that there is interest in our sport, our tournament, our World Cup. That’s a positive. How real or viable any or all of those options are… we’ve yet to make those assessments.”
Commenting on the future of the sport in France, he added: “Whilst the meeting the other day with the French government was disappointing, I am reassured of their commitment to the French game.
“France remains a number one strategy for the IRL. Our aspiration was that this World Cup was the launching pad for further investment in a professional league in France and its continual growth. The IRL will not abandon France.”