Rugby League World Cup postponed until 2022

London (AFP) –


The 2021 Rugby League World Cup due to take place in England has been postponed until next year, organisers announced on Thursday, two weeks after Australia and New Zealand pulled out.

The move had been anticipated since the sport's top two nations withdrew last month citing safety fears during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers initially vowed to press ahead with the tournament but were forced to acknowledge defeat as all 16 NRL (Australia's National Rugby League) clubs backed the boycott.

"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," said a Rugby League World Cup statement.

"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."

New Zealand and Australia last month cited "player welfare and safety" during the Covid-19 crisis as compelling reasons to delay the event until next year.

Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton said: "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."

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: "I am disappointed that we've needed to take the decision to delay the Rugby League World Cup.

"Despite working tirelessly to explore solutions that would allow us to go ahead as planned, circumstances beyond our control have meant that postponing the Rugby League World Cup until next year is the strongest option for staging a successful tournament."

The tournament had been due to kick off in Newcastle on October 23, 2021, with hosts England seen as potential winners alongside New Zealand and defending champions Australia.

Only three nations have won the tournament, with Australia the dominant force, having been crowned champions 11 times.