By AARON BOWER
The Rugby League World Cup could be postponed until 2022, with a definitive decision on the tournament expected by this Wednesday.
League Express understands that World Cup officials are locked in discussions with authorities in Australia and New Zealand to try to secure the commitment of two of the leading nations, while accepting privately that the event cannot go ahead if they decide not to travel.
Despite the United Kingdom’s Covid-19 vaccination drive progressing at an impressive speed, leading to hopes of a full return to normality by the time the event starts in four months’ time, there are fears elsewhere, with a spurt in Covid cases, especially in New South Wales, meaning that some NRL clubs will be forced to return to playing behind closed doors this weekend.
Those clubs are understood to be nervous about releasing their players, given how they would still have to quarantine for a fortnight upon their return to Australia.
That has led to accelerated talks with Australia’s Rugby League Players Association, and World Cup officials are hopeful that they can secure an agreement to allow the 400-plus players and officials coming from Down Under to travel on chartered flights to prevent the risk of them mixing with the general public.
But there is also an understanding privately that time is running out, and a decision must be made sooner, rather than later. Indeed, League Express understands that by the middle of this week, there will be a formal announcement on the future of the event.
The two options are simple: the tournament goes ahead as planned with Australia and New Zealand, or it is pushed back to 2022 if their participation cannot be secured.
Delaying for 12 months would be a huge blow for the event. The World Cup has posted strong early ticket sales, better-than-expected broadcast revenue and received significant Government backing in the five years since it was confirmed that CEO Jon Dutton’s team had won the bid to host the 2021 tournament.
But Dutton is aware that with only four months to go, a decision has to be finalised.
England coach Shaun Wane said on Friday he hopes the event will still go ahead.
“I’m really hoping it will be on. I’m sure it will,” he said.
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