2021 Rugby League World Cup rocked by Australia and New Zealand withdrawal amid COVID-19 safety concerns, ARL, NZRL news

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Australia and New Zealand have officially withdrawn from participating in this year’s Rugby League World Cup due to player safety concerns.

The tournament is set to be held in the UK between 23 October and 27 November, but both Australian Rugby League (ARL) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) have requested for it to be postponed until 2022 to minimise the risk of players contracting COVID-19.

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The withdrawal of the two heavyweight countries is a massive blow to the tournament, with Australia the reigning world champions as well as being the most successful country in Rugby League World Cup history with 11 titles. The last team outside of Australia and New Zealand to win the World Cup was Great Britain in 1972.

Amid the worsening COVID-19 environment in Australia which currently sees three states locked down, both Australia and New Zealand agreed that the risks associated with players and officials travelling to the UK are too great.

“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,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said in a joint statement with the NZRL on Thursday.

“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.”

“The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction,” NZRL CEO Greg Peters added.

“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.”

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