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Australia and New Zealand withdraw from 2021 Rugby League World Cup over COVID concerns

Australia and New Zealand withdraw from 2021 Rugby League World Cup over COVID concerns
July 22, 2021

Australia and New Zealand have pulled out of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup scheduled to commence on 23rd October in the United Kingdom, citing COVID safety concerns for players and officials.

In a joint statement released this afternoon, the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) urged the tournament to be postponed until 2022.

The ARLC and NZRL advised that the decision to withdraw from the World Cup came after considering the risk of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom and the amount of time the majority of NRL players would be required to spend away from home under strict biosecurity conditions prior to the World Cup.

The RLWC2021 said the decision would have "wide ranging implications for international rugby league" and that they would "continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward".

The joint statement advised: “The Australian Rugby League Commission and New Zealand Rugby League today informed the International Rugby League and Rugby League World Cup organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.

“The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.

“The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021.”

NZRL Chief Executive, Greg Peters highlighted the differences between the way in which the UK was managing COVID compared to Australasia and insisted it was “simply too unsafe” for the teams to take part in the tournament.

Peters noted “the safety and well-being of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.

“There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

“The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the COVID-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it’s simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.

“We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved; however player and staff safety remains paramount.”

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys’ concerns aligned with those of Peters and issued a renewed appeal for the tournament to be rescheduled for next year.

“In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and well-being of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.

“The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.

“We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.”

The statement advising International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers of their decision to withdraw from the tournament came on the same day league officials expressed a highly ambitious desire for rugby league to become an Olympic event in time for the Brisbane 2032 Games.

Image courtesy of NRL

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