Australia And New Zealand Withdraw From Rugby League World Cup
oth Australia and New Zealand have pulled out of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC), concluding the risk of COVID-19 “too great” to endorse athlete participation.
Withdrawing from the tournament in a joint statement, the two countries have said the current outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia combined with travelling to the United Kingdom (UK) for the tournament, poses too great of a threat to the safety and wellbeing of athletes and officials.
The decision comes as a major blow to the RLWC as Australia and New Zealand are historically dominant competitors, with Australia holding a record of 11 championship titles.
In an official statement, Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman, Peter V’landy’s, said: “Not participating in this year’s World Cup is not a decision the Commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first.”
“Protecting them is our absolute priority.
“In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable,” he said.
The decision comes just after the NRL relocated their tournament to Queensland, where athletes families and partners now find themselves in strict hotel isolation as a last-minute decision by the Queensland Government.
“The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols,” V’landys said.
“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,” he said.
The ARLC and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) also said they share concern with how quickly COVID-19 circumstances can change, with Melbourne currently in their fourth lockdown and Sydney in its second.
NZRL CEO, Greg Peters, said: “There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australia 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,” Peters said.
The ARLC and NZRL have requested the World Cup be postponed until 2022, however the tournament has remained scheduled to begin late October this year.