A crucial week for the World Cup

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 28th June 2021

Jon Dutton and the World Cup organisers have a huge decision to make this week.

Can the tournament go ahead in less than four months’ time as planned, or is a postponement until 2022 a more sensible option?

Obviously that would bring many problems, with venues, accommodation and travel having to be rearranged, and that’s no small task.

In addition, there would in all probability be an overlap with football’s World Cup in Qatar, so lessening vital publicity for our version.

But a year’s delay would provide a better chance of the tournament taking place in the form it needs to, both from a financial and promotional perspective.

An inability to sell as many tickets as possible would surely have a major impact on the economic viability of the event.

Rugby League has never been awash with money, but given the worrying effects of the pandemic, the situation seems as grave as it’s ever been.

The World Cup, with its men’s, women’s and wheelchair events, provides a great opportunity to showcase the sport, and in particular its inclusivity, at a time when it’s never been more important to do so.

After representing the Combined Nations All Stars against England, Jermaine McGillvary, who has been around long enough and played at a high enough level to be able to hold a very informed opinion, made some telling points.

“I’ve been playing for twelve or 13 years now, and the sport hasn’t progressed since I came through, I’ll be honest,” he said.

“If anything, it’s actually declined a little bit with the players and how it’s run. I think it could be managed a lot better.”

The last thing needed is a World Cup which is watered down, ruined by the kind of Covid outbreaks we have seen in recent weeks, or both.

It was the presence of Covid in the game which made the selection of the Combined Nations All Stars side to face England at Warrington last week so time-consuming and problematic (and that’s without the additional spoke in the wheel created by the decision of Super League clubs to play a round of fixtures at the same time as a long-planned and long-awaited international).

The various forms of the virus, of course, remain very much a world-wide concern.

And it’s the worries of the Southern Hemisphere nations, in particular Australia and New Zealand, especially over quarantine requirements on return, and as a result, their willingness to participate, which could force Dutton’s hand.

Whatever route he takes carries risk, and while some might say making decisions of magnitude comes with the job, when he was appointed in 2017, he could never have considered having to delay the tournament by twelve months.

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