Australia’s NRL clubs want Rugby League World Cup postponed until 2022
Australia’s leading clubs believe this year’s Rugby League World Cup should be postponed for 12 months due to the Covid-19 situation in the United Kingdom, according to one NRL chief executive, but the tournament is set to be given the green light to go ahead as planned on Thursday.
World Cup organisers are expected to confirm they intend to proceed with the event this autumn following talks with various governing bodies over participation. The World Cup is due to start on 23 October when England face Samoa at St James’ Park.
However, the Guardian understands NRL clubs still have significant concerns regarding the logistics of flying more than 400 players, staff and officials in and out of the UK for the tournament. Australian border rules dictate anyone returning to the country must spend 14 days in government-managed quarantine, but NRL clubs believe that would mean after a mandatory off-season rest period, some of the game’s leading players would not return to their clubs until two weeks before 2022 trial games begin, something they are not keen to entertain. That could see Australia sending a weaker side to defend the title they won in 2017.
World Cup officials have agreed to pay for charter flights for all those travelling to minimise the risk of contact with the general public, but the South Sydney chief executive and former Super League CEO, Blake Solly, told the Guardian the preferred option among Australia’s elite clubs remains to push the event back one year.
“There is a great amount of respect for Jon [Dutton, World Cup chief executive] and his team,” Solly said. “But the NRL clubs have a range of concerns; from travel to and from the UK, the arrangements and protocols for players in the UK, quarantine upon their return and when the players return to training. The collective view when we discussed the tournament a few weeks ago was that it needed to be postponed until 2022.”
Despite that resistance, confirmation is expected on Thursday morning that the tournament will go ahead regardless as moving it to 2022 would result in a direct clash with the Fifa World Cup in Qatar. The sport is also keen to capitalise on the momentum generated by events such as Wimbledon and Euro 2020 this summer, with the prospect of capacity crowds at England’s World Cup games.
Solly, however, has a different view. “Surely a greater priority for international rugby league at the end of this season is to play some matches in New Zealand.” he said. “There has not been an elite game of rugby league played there for almost two years. It is safer and more practical than the World Cup in Europe and rewards the loyalty of New Zealand rugby league supporters through an incredible period. The World Cup should take place in the UK in 2022.” World Cup officials declined to comment when approached by the Guardian.