MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The Rugby League World Cup scheduled for October in England was postponed to 2022 on Thursday.
The news was anticipated after Australia and New Zealand pulled out two weeks ago, citing player welfare concerns in the pandemic.
Organizers initially vowed to proceed with the tournament, which has British government funding of 25 million pounds ($35 million), but were forced to acknowledge defeat as all 16 National Rugby League clubs in Australia and New Zealand backed the decision. The clubs have most of the players, and tournament chief executive Jon Dutton said their decision was going to have a domino effect on the rest of the national teams.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” Dutton said at a news conference on Thursday. “We’ve worked tirelessly as a team for almost six years to put the tournament into a quite remarkable position.
“Over the weekend, into Monday, it became apparent that we couldn’t continue. It wouldn’t have been a world-class tournament and it would have been irresponsible to carry on.
“It’s fair to say that we did come close to a cancellation and ultimately I guess the least-worst option was to postpone.”
Dutton said they will move the competition dates, scheduled from Oct. 23-Nov. 27, to start earlier to avoid a clash with the 2022 soccer World Cup starting on Nov. 18 in Qatar.
He said the vast majority of players remained keen to take part.
“We have always prioritized player voice and player choice,” he said. “We have established a player working group, met with senior players and in the last few days commissioned a player survey to domestic players in Australia and New Zealand that showed more than 85% wanted to compete at RLWC2021 this year.”
International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant said the postponement will not affect plans to stage the next World Cup in 2025 in France.
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