Australia and New Zealand WITHDRAW from Rugby League World Cup in England amid coronavirus fears

Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn from the Rugby League World Cup in England this autumn and called for its postponement amid fears over coronavirus.

A joint statement from the two nations read: ‘The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) 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.’ 

NZRL chief executive Greg Peters cited ‘stark differences’ between the management of the pandemic in the UK and Australasia and insisted it was ‘simply too unsafe’ for the teams to take part in the tournament.

He said: ‘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.’

Reigning champions Australia (pictured) and New Zealand have withdrawn from this autmun’s Rugby League World Cup in England over coronavirus fears

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The Rugby League World Cup tournament organisers said the decision to withdraw at short notice as ‘disappointing’ – as it was claimed they were told about it just four minutes before the announcement.

‘RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League,’ a statement read. ‘RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course.’  

Australia and New Zealand’s announcement comes just days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson posed with the trophy outside No 10 Downing Street, where he was joined by tournament ambassadors and executives. 

Australia and New Zealand both signed participation agreements to compete in the World Cup but could now face huge financial penalties after withdrawing from the tournament at short notice. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) poses with the Rugby League World Cup trophy last week

Mr Johnson was joined by ambassadors and executives of the Rugby League World Cup

Sportsmail learned earlier this month that the contracts contain significant financial penalties for any nation that withdraws at late notice.

The World Cup is projected to generate around £40million so cancellation would have disastrous financial implications.

In addition, postponing it by 12 months could result in a series of costly knock-on effects. A one-year delay would clash with the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar. It is feared, the would create the possibility the BBC could withdraw some live coverage. 

Sportsmail also reported this month that Australia were threatening to undermine the credibility of the tournament by sending a reserve team.

There was resistance from National Rugby League (NRL) clubs in Australia, who called for the competition to be postponed until next year because Covid-19 quarantine rules mean players would only return to their clubs two weeks before trial games begin for the 2022 season.

Australia and New Zealand both signed participation agreements to compete in the World Cup but could now be hit with penalties after withdrawing at late notice

With Australia’s borders currently closed, anyone returning to the country from overseas would have to spend 14 days in government-managed quarantine. 

Players must take a mandatory six-week rest break after quarantine, that would have impacted the new campaign by essentially wiping out pre-season.

But now, the competition has taken a massive hit with two of the tournament’s biggest teams pulling the plug just months before it kicks off in Britain.

The 16-team men’s World Cup gets underway on October 23 with the final at Old Trafford in Manchester on November 27.

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