SYDNEY (AP) — Rugby league’s World Cup received more bad news Friday when all 16 National Rugby League clubs approved a decision by Australia and New Zealand officials to withdraw from the tournament.
In a lengthy statement issued by all clubs, the teams cited COVID-19-related safety and welfare concerns for their players as their chief issues with the tournament scheduled to start in October in England from going ahead.
The clubs again called for the competition to be postponed until 2022, hopeful that conditions and quarantine arrangements will have improved by then.
It comes after several club chief executives met with World Cup chief Jon Dutton on Thursday, with Dutton admitting afterwards the tournament was only a 50-50 chance of going ahead.
“We all want to see a strong, safe and successful Rugby League World Cup,” Canberra Raiders chief executive Don Furner said in the statement Friday. “It’s clear that cannot be achieved in 2021, but we are in strong support for the tournament to be held in 2022.
“We want the players to come home healthy. There are two massive challenges here. The U.K. infection rate is increasing, with the two countries being at different stages of vaccination levels and approach to dealing with the virus."
The statement Friday didn’t explicitly state players would not be allowed to feature in the tournament, but gave every indication clubs would not support them going to England.
“The NRL and its clubs have gone to great lengths and invested heavily to ensure our players remain healthy and the competition continues,” South Sydney chief executive Blake Solly said.
Dutton said he wants to talk with players directly to hear their concerns and try and allay any fears, but also says the organizers need to make a final call by next week.
He added they want to stay with 16 teams in the men’s competition. The United States and Serbia are the most logical replacements after losing out in qualifying, but he’s open to inviting an Indigenous Australian team and New Zealand Maori in consultation with global governing body International Rugby League.
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