Australia and New Zealand have withdrawn from the Rugby League World Cup due to “player welfare and safety concerns” regarding Covid-19. The men’s, women’s, and wheelchair events are set to take place this autumn in England.
Greg Peters, CEO of the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), stated that participation was “simply too dangerous.”
Simon Johnson, chairman of the Rugby Football League (RFL), described the decision as “selfish, parochial, and cowardly.”
“Rugby League World Cup organizers have bent over backwards to offer every assurance to the Australians and the Kiwis. We are very unhappy with this decision and we are not prepared to take it lying down,” Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
NZRL chief Peters stated that the decision to withdraw was made because the players’ and staff’s safety and well-being “cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.”
“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 organizers 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.”
Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) chairman Peter V’landys said: “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.
“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.
“We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.”
Following an increase in Covid-19 cases, about half of Australia’s population has been placed under lockdown, with stay-at-home orders now in effect in South Australia, Victoria, and parts of New South Wales.
This is in stark contrast to England, where most coronavirus restrictions have been lifted despite rising cases.
The tournament’s organizers only confirmed its continuation earlier this month, despite the fact that Australia, the holders and 11-time winners, did not sign the participation agreement.
One of the previously mentioned issues is the Covid-19 regulations and quarantine rules for players and staff returning to Australia and New Zealand.
Due to the fact that Australia’s borders are currently closed, anyone returning must spend 14 days in government-managed quarantine.
According to reports, Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) teams want the tournament moved to next year because the regulations require players to return to their clubs only two weeks before the start of the 2022 NRL season.
Rugby league officials estimate that 400-500 players, staff, and team officials from NRL teams representing a variety of countries will compete in the World Cup.
International Rugby League chair Troy Grant criticized the withdrawal decision, saying he has been in regular contact with Australia’s Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) and has received assurances that a number of international players and coaches are satisfied with the safety arrangements put in place.
“While I understand the ARLC’s desire to ensure player safety and welfare, I struggle to find words to adequately express my disappointment with that decision,” he said in a statement.