New Zealand and Australia have officially withdrawn their teams from this year’s Rugby League World Cup in the UK.
A joint statement released this evening by the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) said they had informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers neither will compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.
“The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction,” NZRL CEO Greg Peters 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.
“We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved; however player and staff safety remains paramount.”
Organisers said earlier this month the tournament will go ahead as planned in October despite Covid-19 still posing an issue in the UK.
Adding to the complexity is the fact this year's World Cup is the first time three different competitions are all being held at the same time as one giant event, with world champions set to be found in the men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments.
Combined, 61 matches were expected at the World Cup prior to tonight's announcement.
However, ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys insisted player wellbeing and safety must come first.
“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,’’ V'Landys said.
“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.
"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. 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.
“We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.”
This year's tournament was scheduled to kick off on October 23 when England faced Samoa.