The Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) has been postponed until 2022 after New Zealand and Australia withdrew from the competition.
The men’s tournament was scheduled to go ahead alongside the women’s tournament and the wheelchair tournament this Autumn in England.
Ireland had qualified for the men’s tournament and was drawn into Group C with New Zealand, as well as Lebanon and Jamaica.
Australia and New Zealand had said that it is “simply too unsafe” to travel and have further cited player welfare and safety concerns as reasons for their withdrawal.
The RLWC issued a statement on Thursday morning which read: “Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RLWC2021) and the UK Government have today announced their intention to stage the flagship event in the international Rugby League calendar in 2022.
“The extremely difficult decision was taken by the RLWC2021 Board, which includes representation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the International Rugby League (IRL) Board.
“This follows extensive and urgent consultation conducted by RLWC2021 Chief Executive Officer Jon Dutton and his team, which engaged players, competing nations, the Rugby League Players Association (Australia), UK Government, hosts, commercial and broadcast partners.
“Tournament organisers faced several unique and complex challenges with the most significant being the non-release of up to 400 players, match officials and staff members from the NRL competition in Australia. This is despite all requests from international rugby league federations having been met which included the rigorous health measures that have been keeping thousands of elite athletes from around the world safe whilst competing in major sporting events across the UK over the last year.
“Ultimately this decision has been detrimental to the plans and ambitions of many of the competing nations and potential replacement teams. A key factor was ensuring that fans of Rugby League are able to enjoy the best possible tournament, which was not possible under these circumstances.”
Jon Dutton, RLWC2021 Chief Executive Officer, said: “Today is a challenging moment for everyone involved in Rugby League, but most importantly the players and fans of the competing nations.
“Ultimately, time and competing priorities from others forced us to make the most difficult decision in our six-year history. However, we and the sport of Rugby League are resilient, and next year we will deliver our vision of the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup ever.
“We have always prioritised player voice and player choice. We have established a player working group, met with senior players and in the last few days commissioned a player survey to domestic players in Australia and New Zealand that showed more than 85% wanted to compete at RLWC2021 this year.
“However, following the disappointing decision of the ARLC and NZRL to withdraw, and the subsequent impact on player availability for other competing nations, it is apparent that delivering the tournament this year would not be feasible.
“The wellbeing of all those involved in the tournament, particularly players and team officials, has been our priority. I would like to thank the RLWC2021 Board and my team for the relentless hard work and extraordinary measures that had been undertaken to create a safe and secure environment in line with other major sports events that have been successfully hosted in the UK this year.
“I would also like to thank all our committed partners as well as the Rugby League community at large who have been so supportive of our trailblazing event. We appreciate the continued and unequivocal support of the UK Government, as well as the understanding of our competing nations.”