The schedule for next year’s Rugby League World Cup was released in full last Friday as the tournament relaunched exactly one year before it will finish.
Alongside that Jon Dutton and Chris Brindley, chief executive and chair respectively of RLWC2021, hosted a press conference and took questions on a range of topics, including the mammoth task of renegotiating every contract, building bridges with Australia and New Zealand, and the progress of ticket sales.
Here’s everything that was said…
Chris: Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat. We were last together on the fifth of August, and I opened that press conference by saying it was a solemn moment in the history of our sport as we then went on to announce the postponement of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
My final words were asked in response to a question from Phil Caplan. Phil asked: will we be able to return the leadership team and will the tournament be as good next year as we planned this year? My words were that Jon, Stephen (Brown, RLWC2021 chief operating officer) and Dean (Hardman, tournament director) will still be around, they’ll bounce back, and my final quote was that all that is changing is the dates.
I’m absolutely proud to be part of this relaunch of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 with our new schedule today.
Incredibly, in just over 100 days, we are now here talking about that new playing schedule. We are talking about four World Cups not three, with that fourth World Cup having an additional team.
There’s been changes to a few venues but the vast majority remain the same. That’s good for players, that’s good for spectators, that’s good for viewers.
Particularly, and I’d like you to quote this widely if you may, I’ve researched high and low over the last few days, I don’t believe in sporting history there has ever been a situation where people can watch three World Cup finals in the same city in 24 hours. If the other sports journalists know any please let me know, but I think that is a first for sport. I think it’s another first for Rugby League, and it’s a first for Manchester. I am a proud Mancunian, and I believe Manchester is a city of firsts, so I would love you to quote that, because those people that really want to be part of history, that want to come to events, I think should be in Manchester on the weekend of 18-19th November 2022.
I’d like to put on record some thanks if I may. I’d like to thank Jon, I’d like to thank Stephen and Dean, they’ve worked tirelessly over the last 107 days. Jon will give you more detail but we’ve had to renegotiate all of the venues, we’ve had to renegotiate all of the suppliers, we’ve had to renegotiate budgets. Having conversations with government, with nations, with UK Sport, and Jon and the team have been agile, they’ve been pragmatic, and they’ve been solutions-focused, and that’s been consistent with everybody that’s been part of the Rugby League World Cup 2021 journey since the very start.
My thanks also the Rugby League World Cup 2021 board. They have been tremendously supportive of Jon and the executive team, and every decision right from the decision to postpone, right through to signing off the venues, the budgets and everything else, they have been unanimous in that support. I work in lots of different sports, I don’t see boards always acting in a unanimous way, so I really want to thank that board for their support.
Thanks also to UK Sport and in particular Esther Britten, who’s been a huge supporter of the tournament from the very start and continues to do so. I’d like to thank colleagues from DCMS, and also Nigel Huddleston, the minister of sport, who again has been particularly supportive right throughout this tournament.
I’d also like to thank our colleagues at the BBC. Again Jon will give you the detail but their support has been tremendous throughout and will continue to do so in 2022. And also to our commercial partners, we’ve not lost any and we’ve been inundated with support from our commercial partners, and that’s a really, really good sign for the tournament next year.
As I remind people in other parts of my life, there are no rear-view mirrors in aeroplanes. Therefore that’s the analogy for us at Rugby League World Cup 2021, we are going to look forwards, not backwards. We’ll be alert and agile for anything that comes in at the side but I would make the plea that we talk about the tournament going forward, and not try and drag up or discuss things that have happened in the past. Let’s be solutions-focused, let’s talk this tournament up, let’s make it something special for this sport and this nation.
Finally my thanks to you (the media), I’ve been hugely appreciative of all the support that everybody in this room have given the tournament, you have been on our side right from the start. When I do review the tournament with Jon and the board, one of the moments will be from the fifth of August. When you individually were asking questions, you asked about Jon first. You asked if Jon was alright. And I think that’s testimony to the respect Jon has among you but also the support you give the tournament. So thank you again, thank you for the past support, please give it the best support we can, I think the sport deserves it, and I think we’ve got something to share that’s going to be very special year of sport in this country.
Jon: I just wanted to also acknowledge what Chris has just said and thank you for your support. You’ve been with us on what’s been a long journey, and 12 months longer now.
It’s been a difficult few months but now we have an intense determination to make the tournament bigger and better. I’ll briefly talk through some of the challenges we’ve had to overcome and give some of the context, and then happy to answer any of your questions.
If we start with the schedule, it’s fair to say we’ve had to navigate a really complicated backdrop. We had to fix the tournament dates outside of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, cognizant of the concertina effect that the pause in the season would have. The team have worked incredibly hard, we’ve met with the English Premier League, the English Football League, the FA, the National League, Premiership Rugby, and I’m also very grateful to our friends and colleagues at Super League Europe, who have moved forward the 2022 Grand Final.
We have achieved our objective of minimal changes, and the ones we’ve had to make are not through a lack of desire – far from it. We could have lost multiple venues and multiple games, and every change creates a domino effect in this 61-game schedule. Originally it took us 12 months to put the schedule together, and the work we’ve done to rebuild it has taken just over two months.
Anfield is unavailable due to the Anfield Road building project, they’ve been great partners and we share their frustration in missing out. The key for us was to replace Anfield with a venue in the north west that could host a double header and create a fantastic atmosphere. Capacity was less important at the quarter-final stage given the bigger venues we have at the start and end of the tournament.
We made a shortlist acknowledging the venues we already have in the schedule in the north west, and the team at the back went away and talked through the shortlist. Wigan emerged as the ideal replacement, a sell-out perhaps for England men – and a reminder should they qualify in any way they will play in that game – and of course the England-Canada women’s game. Many of us were at the DW Stadium in 2015 for that magnificent occasion between England and New Zealand, a sell-out which created a full house generating noise and excitement both for people inside the venue and on broadcast, and that’s what we want to replicate.
With regards to the Wheelchair final, the M&S Bank Arena isn’t available. They’re already contracted with another event, and again we share their disappointment at having to move the final. Liverpool remains a host, they will host both Italy and Tonga; they will retain their original arrangements.
But we are very excited about Manchester Central and the prospect, as Chris has said, or bringing all three World Cup finals to the city of Manchester. Like a few around the table, I attended the England-France wheelchair game last weekend in Medway and it was another reminder about how special Wheelchair Rugby League is, particularly when witnessing the best two teams go head-to-head. Manchester Central gives us the opportunity to build our own venue, and we target a sell-out of just under 5,000 spectators for the moment.
Also we can look forward to what I believe is the iconic moment of the tournament in Manchester which will involve all of you, when on Thursday 17th November it will host the finalists’ media event. If we take a step back, having the two men’s captains, the two women’s captains, the two wheelchair captains, the three trophies, sat side-by-side, I think will be a moment for the sport to be truly proud of, and that will happen in Manchester.
The other change is a swap, we’ve swapped Hull and Leeds. The Hull Fair in week one means we cannot use the MKM Stadium for match number two. What that means is that Leeds’ Headingley will host back-to-back games including Australia versus Fiji on the opening day, while Hull in reverse will get to host an absolute cracker in New Zealand versus Jamaica in week two.
It’s also, as Chris has mentioned, worth reflecting that the delay means that we will host a bigger and better PDRL tournament which, will now include a sixth nation. Had we gone ahead this year, we would not have been able to stage the PDRL event.
Over the past 100 days we have renegotiated approximately 170 contracts, everything from nations to people to partnerships. The BBC have recommitted to broadcast every minute of every game live across their channels. Once again, unprecedented for the sport of Rugby League. We’re in a strong commercial position, and we now have 32 signed participation agreements from the 21 competing nations. We have rebuilt some relationships and now, as Chris has said, we’re looking forward.
We’re in regular contact with all the nations; next week we will get all the nations together and in late January I will travel to Australia. I will meet with all key partners, every NRL club chief executive, the nation decision-makers and staff.
Mick (Hogan) is with us at the back, Mick has joined our senior leadership team. Mick will now oversee a combined marketing and commercial function.
From a ticket sales perspective, we smashed our targets in the ballot, we’ve gone through a full refund process for the postponement, and we’ve done a piece of research. Interestingly, more than half the people who sought a refund have pledged their support to rebook back with us.
No surprise but the three biggest sellers are the double header finals at Old Trafford, the Emirates Stadium which continues to attract way above our target, and the opening game in Newcastle. Mick has just told me at 9am we had about a thousand people in the ticket queue waiting to buy tickets this morning. Ambitiously we are going to target a sell-out for the opening women’s game, England versus Brazil, at Headingley, and we believe we can achieve that. And of course, a sell-out for all three finals.
From a social impact perspective, twelve more months gives us the opportunity to deliver more social benefit. We have just over £2 million left of our capital facility money. The totaliser currently stands at 222 projects that we have supported, with a combined project cost of £16.62 million. Of that our investment is £7.5 million.
We’ve made the money go an awful long way, and this is a physical manifestation of our tournament. Tomorrow the Salford City Roosters project opens, and that’s a wonderful case study of new money going into community bricks and mortar, and it’s only been made possible by the tournament, and we have some more opportunities.
Our mental fitness programme will reach over 10,000 people, and we have re-pledged to staging a dedicated game to celebrate the work of Movember, in November, and Rugby League Cares. We were the first global sports event to have a mental fitness charter, along with being the first tournament to sign up the United Nations’ Action for Climate Change in Sport, and we did that way back in 2018. Our charity partnerships with Unicef continue to flourish and we recently held a virtual field trip to Brazil, to listen to the young people that are being positively impacted by our fundraising.
Finally we’ve involved 280 volunteers with a learning disability in various initiatives, all of whom will be given an opportunity to volunteer at the tournament. Later this afternoon, we go to the London Stock Exchange, where our inclusion ambassador, Oliver Thomason, will be assisting with the market close ceremony in the City of London in front of a hundred invited guests from the partners and the City. Today we relaunch with confidence, commitment, control and absolute determination.
Q: Of all the work that you’ve had to do to get the show back on the road, what has given you the most satisfaction?
Jon: It was devastating, and the reality, as we saw last week with England playing the Wallabies in front of 82,000 people, is we could have staged the tournament. We would have staged a tournament without the very best athletes in the world, and we took what is a responsible decision. It hurt and it hurt a lot, but now we look forward.
We’ve had to work hard. We’ve reached out to Andrew Abdo, the chief executive of the ARLC, and Greg Peters the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League, and had what I would describe as positive reconciliatory conversations. What has changed is desire. They did not want to play in the tournament this year, they want to play in the tournament next year. They appreciate how significant this is for international Rugby League.
I don’t think we should underestimate the work that the team has done over the last 107 days to put back together a 61-game schedule given the complexity of the FIFA World Cup, the season being suspended, the mix of Premier League and Football League venues. We don’t know who will be in which league next season which adds another layer of complexity.
But of course having all 32 signed participation agreements, we should remind ourselves we didn’t have that when we were about to go ahead, so that’s a really key change. It adds more confidence and I think for all of us, we can spend our time reflecting on what might have been, or we can use the word ‘opportunity’. I genuinely believe it is an opportunity.
We’ve got more time to sell more tickets, to create more social impact, and having the three finals in Manchester – we’re obviously disappointed about losing the two venues in Liverpool – that’s going to be a transformative moment for the sport. Inside Manchester Central on Friday night, with a clean court, broadcast to the world in front of 5,000 spectators, and then the next day to go and do the same again at Old Trafford. I think that’s pretty special.
Q: How complex was it to get those two to sign participation agreements? Was it straightforward or complicated?
Jon: I wouldn’t say it was complicated, it was more we needed a break after the fifth of August. We needed to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, dust ourselves down and go back with positivity. I spoke to both Andrew and Greg, we wrote to Australian Rugby League Commission and we gradually started to rebuild those relationships.
But I point back to what I said to Martyn, it’s about desire. The first conversation was let’s move forward, we want to play in the tournament, let’s make it happen. We’ve had to look at safeguards. No one knows what the environment is going to be in 12 months’ time, we just don’t know that, we can’t predict the future.
That’s why I think it’s important to go to Australia, to meet with every NRL club chief executive, I target having 50 meetings when I’m over there, to meet with all the nations, and to make sure that we can do now – fingers crossed – what we couldn’t do over the last few months and conduct everything via Zoom and Teams.
Complicated is probably not the right word but desire. We’ve got a small team and the context of any other major sports event, we’ve got some brilliant people who are absolutely determined to ensure this event is a success.
Chris: One of the things that has been consistent right throughout is the support of the players, and the Rugby League Players Association and Clint Newton. I think that has given us an awful lot of confidence, because when your players want to play… The player voice has never been greater.
When Jon gets out there and meets the club owners, the club chief executives, and all the other stakeholders, the one thing that gives us immense confidence is the players want to represent their countries in a World Cup. I’ve never played a professional sport at any level but I’ve talked to a lot of people and know a lot of people, the pinnacle of a career is to play in a World Cup. That was underpinning our decision as a board, to go through another year knowing that we’ve got a lot of work to do.
Once again I echo Jon’s words, we’ve got a small but really great team that want to make this happen, and that’s why when Phil asked me the question last time, I was really confident that we wouldn’t be losing any of our people, because we’re on a mission, and that overcomes an awful lot, and it gives you a hell of a lot of resilience. I’ve seen oodles of resilience from the team and the board and everybody involved.
Q: Are the participation agreements legally binding?
Jon: Yep, as legally binding as any other contract that we have. Again if we focus on desire, if people want to do things, it will happen. I genuinely believe that Australia, New Zealand and everyone else – we shouldn’t forget about the other nations that have been impacted, largely nations that are volunteer-led, other nations where there has been a significant cost to them, some nations now buying kit that they now can’t use, and that’s why we talk about all of our 21 nations rather than focusing on Australia and New Zealand. But we have legally binding, signed agreements, times 32, and we didn’t have that before.
Q: The fact they are legally binding answers any doubt that we could be in the same position we were last time, because their hands are tied?
Jon: The main difference is just having the right level of protections in place. When we’ve executed a contract today, it is impossible to say what we might have to do in terms of player safety, impossible. I’m confident that some the extreme measures we put in place last time to continue, we won’t have to do this time, but I’m not going to attempt to predict the future.
Q: You mentioned seeing the Wallabies over here and the All Blacks. Have you managed to find out if the arrangements for them to come were similar or the same as the ones you put forward that the ARLC and NZRL turned down?
Jon: We’ve been speaking to Australian Rugby Union, Stephen’s been speaking to the All Blacks, we have spoken to everyone involved in Tokyo (Olympics) and other events just to learn. But what’s important is not what’s happening now to them, what’s important is what’s going to happen with us and what we will put in place.
Chris’s point is really important about the Rugby League Players Association, a really powerful organisation. I had a meeting with Clint Newton over the week and I’ll see Clint while I’m out there, and they’re fully behind it. We have probably five hundred athletes that will travel over from Australia to populate pretty much every nation, including England men. So learning is important, dwelling on what might have been is not important anymore.
Q: Will there be a policy on vaccination, like players have to be doubled jabbed to get in, or does it purely depend on the countries’ regulations at the time?
Jon: The tournament will not put in place a mandatory vaccination policy. It was part of my conversation with Clint last week about what’s happening in the NRL, obviously we’ll liaise with colleagues here at the RFL and Super League.
We are the tournament organisers. What we will put in place is what other people would expect, so whether that’s from an airline, whether that’s from a nation, or whether that’s from the competition that players compete in. I think it’s quite heartening the vaccination rates both here with players and also in Australia.
Q: As things stand – we don’t know what it’s going to be like next year – anyone coming over here who is not fully vaccinated will have to quarantine, won’t they?
Jon: That will be for Public Health England and we will adhere to the rules in place. One of my concerns, had we gone ahead, the restrictions on the players would have been quite significant. We all want access to the players, the players want to do things in the local community, and we hope that will be put in place and we’ll be able to do that next year. Player safety is obviously critically important to us.
Q: You mentioned repairing relationships. Do you think this whole saga might have strengthened relationships and will that benefit international Rugby League where that’s been an issue generally in the past?
Jon: I certainly hope so. I think if we reflect on some of the vitriol, rhetoric, the language that people would not be proud of, I firmly believe that throughout all of that we were professional and dignified and we stayed solution-focused. But I do think, when you look back, it was not the moment for anyone to be proud of international Rugby League, but I think you’re absolutely right, this can be an opportunity.
The focus for the NRL was playing the season, that season’s now played and hopefully we have some more normality. This is such a big moment for international Rugby League. We hope ’25 is better than our tournament, we hope ’29 is better than ’25, but we have to focus on delivering this tournament and having more nations than ever before, and making sure that people collaborate and it’s in the best interests of international Rugby League.
Chris: In sport, there’s a phrase all around controlling the controllables. That’s what we focus on doing. Guessing what will be the vaccination in six, nine, twelve months’ time, Austria has gone into full lockdown as we speak this morning, so things are changing.
I think the skill is being agile, and the job of the board is to look into the future, the job of the board is to work with the executive and scenario plan, and we’ve always looked at what might happen and had really positive conversations with everybody about how we mitigate that. We’ve got a risk and audit committee, we’ve got a risk register, we are hugely professional.
Independent board evaluation of the Rugby League World Cup board was one of the best ever seen, not just in sport but in business. So we want to do whatever we can. But outside our control is something we can’t just make happen, we can influence.
Jon going over to meet people I think is a really powerful sign of the desire of everybody to make sure we put the tournament first. In any sport sometimes, whether that’s a club owner or an international federation, put themselves first. This isn’t the case with us.
We want to make sure that the sport gets the benefit from having every single game televised live in this country on the BBC, selling more tickets than ever before, and going to new places like the Emirates. I think that is fantastic for our sport and that is what we’re obsessed about and nothing else.
Q: You spoke about targeting a sell-out for the opening women’s game and the three finals. Has the extra year of ticket sales given you a chance to up some ambitions and target more sell-outs?
Jon: I think it has. We’ve actually done a lot of research and impact to look at, way back when we did the ballot and we know we were really successful in London, 70 per cent of people who bought in the ballot were not on our database and the database is quite significant. Then the uncertainty slowed ticket sales down. Now we can say we’ve actually ticked everything off the list and we look forward.
Opening day, St James’ Park and Headingley, to target approximately 70,000 tickets on the opening day. As Chris has said, the coverage live across the BBC, I think will give the tournament fantastic momentum. My specific point about England versus Brazil in the women’s tournament was what a statement. What a statement if we can sell that game out, and that will then set us up for the women’s competition to have the same profile and visibility. I’m sorry I keep going back to Manchester Central but what a way to end what will be a wonderful Wheelchair tournament, and we shouldn’t forget that starts at the Copper Box with England versus Australia.
Q: You were committing yourself last year had it gone ahead to a huge cost in terms of chartering teams here etc. Can you put a figure on how much that would have been and is that money now available to you?
Jon: Millions in terms of what it would cost to continue. Millions in terms of what it has now cost for postponement. The cost of postponement has been significant so it’s pretty much the same cost as had we continued to now go forward twelve months.
We’ve had to be quite nimble and agile, the team has slimmed down for now, we’ll build the team back up from an operational perspective, but we want to deliver what we set out to do, from the start – November 2015, the first conversation with government – to the end was going to be six years, now it’s seven years, and obviously that comes with a cost.
Q: How much is the government putting towards that?
Jon: We’re in conversation with the government. What I would say about government is that this tournament would not have been possible without the support of government. We’ve seen on Monday the call from Nigel Huddleston, the government have fully stood behind this tournament and prepared to help and support us. Not just from a tournament perspective, but also an incredible amount of investment into the social impact programme.
Q: What was the actual timeline from it being postponed to it being confirmed for next year?
Jon: Exactly 100 days. Last Friday we held a board meeting and we said as the executive were challenged, after the fourth of August, to go away and put all of these things in place, and we stood in front of the board last Friday and said ‘we’ve met your challenge, can we now go ahead and relaunch with confidence’, and the board said yes.
The timeline; take a deep breath at the start of August, have a couple of weeks off, start those conversations, and the most complicated piece of work – and Dean’s led on it – 170 agreements that all expired on the third of December, we’ve had to go and put all of those back in place. The team have worked hard, we did a lot of the work over September and October, and a lot of the final conversations into November to get us where we are.
Q: You must have had a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions yourself over the past three months?
Jon: It wasn’t enjoyable, and personally I was disappointed because I set out with the board and with the team to deliver the tournament this year. We could have delivered the tournament, but on reflection it wouldn’t have been the tournament anyone hoped for. Who are we, as administrators, to make decisions about athletes? We want the world’s best athletes. So a rollercoaster of emotions, but we are absolutely determined. We are more determined now than we ever have been.
Q: Was there ever any prospect of it being scrapped completely?
Jon: When as a board we sat down, we had to look at the options. At the time we had three options. I was very clear we either carried on, we postponed, or the tournament didn’t go ahead. We had to work through those options with our partners and with our board. We have come to the most responsible and the best decision, but we are surrounded by risk. We can’t take the risk away, what we can do is manage is as best we can.
Chris: If anyone ever needs thinking time, go for a walk round Pennington Flash on the Leeds Liverpool Canal, that’s what Jon and I did. We both sat there and said ‘look, we are where we are’. It was probably the sixth of August on a Friday and we said ‘right, what do we do?’ By the end of that walk we’d sat down in a café in Pennington Park, we’d have a bacon sandwich, and we said ‘we know what we want to do, we know what we need to do’, and we’re all here.
We’re here with no other plans than to deliver the best ever Rugby League World Cup. One of our values is world class. We talk as a board about living our values so when you talk about our decision making, we were a responsible board. We went through every single scenario, we priced every single scenario up, we looked at the impacts and the benefits, and we did all that due diligence, and we’re here and we’re going ahead.
Q: With the physical disability rugby league, is it now a four-sided tournament in effect? Will you take responsibility for putting on that tournament?
Jon: There’s six teams, Ireland become the sixth nation. Just to be clear, had we carried on, we couldn’t have delivered that.
We’re responsible for staging the tournament, but it’s slightly different in that athletes will fundraise to come over here so we won’t be responsible for the direct team cost. What we are responsible for doing and what we will absolutely celebrate is that we will make it significant. We know that Adam Hills is just the greatest ambassador for Physical Disability Rugby League. We will play the final before one of the games at Warrington, we’ve still got a little bit of work to do. Warrington will host all of the tournament.
Again when you step back and think, what a celebration; men, women, wheelchair, physical disability, and during the tournament we’ll also showcase some of the learning disability work that the sport has done. As I referenced before, our ambassador Oliver is a great character and a great ambassador. This is for the sport, this is not our tournament, it’s not Chris’s tournament, it is for the sport to get behind and say ‘we are an inclusive tournament, let’s celebrate that’.
Q: Going back to the participation agreements, were Australia and New Zealand the last ones to sign up?
Jon: No, interestingly. Quite dramatically, on Tuesday, Canada Ravens came into the office. They’ve been over here as part of a Masters tour so they came in and physically signed the 32nd contract.
Q: Even though it wasn’t the last one, seeing the Aussies and Kiwis sign must have been a moment of relief?
Jon: A little. The actual signature is just a technical thing, it comes back to the commitment and the desire. What was most important was not the signature, it was the very first conversation. The first conversation was conciliatory and positive with both New Zealand and Australia.
We shouldn’t forget either the role for the IRL, we continue to be close to Troy Grant. This is the IRL’s tournament and what we want is to stage something magnificent, and it helps the IRL grow international Rugby League. We want as many nations playing more frequently.
Q: I remember the opening game in 2000 on the BBC at Windsor Park with very few people in attendance. The contrast next year will be quite stark hopefully when we kick off in Newcastle. I just wonder where you are with ticket sales for that game and how long it will take, if you think it will sell out, when will you be able to put the ‘sold out’ signs up?
Jon: I remember 2000, it is a sharp contrast. So 2.30, 15th of October, live on BBC1, preceded by – I hesitate to say ceremony but something significant before. Then the game between England and Samoa, and the Samoa team could be incredibly strong. Potentially game one could be game of the tournament. When will we sell out? Probably a question more for Mick but we are confident that we will have more than 50,000 people inside the stadium. Where we’re at now is above target.
Q: Mid 20,000s (currently sold) presumably?
Jon: I think we’re slightly more than that… We want 70,000 tickets on the opening day, the tournament will have the most incredible momentum, the most incredible exposure, and we shouldn’t forget next year we’re the sort of fourth event. The women’s football Euros, their ticket sales have been incredible, and we share some of the same venues. The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, ticket sales really strong. And also the World Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool.
What’s special about those four events? They’re all on the BBC, and none of them are London-centric. The women’s final is at Wembley and we’ve got games in London. I think that’s a really special story and we see that as an opportunity, not as a threat. We’re not in competition with any of those events.
Q: You say Wigan emerged as the frontrunner when Anfield was unavailable but they were left off the list initially. Some people were pretty angry at the time, so why were they left off the list initially?
Jon: At the time we had a choice to make for that weekend between Wigan and Bolton and we decided to go with Bolton because we already had games in the metropolitan borough of Wigan with three games at Leigh Sports Village. Yes there were some angry people we who were quite upset about that decision. We’ve got to reflect, Wigan weren’t the only ones to miss out. What a privileged position to be in, we weren’t knocking in people’s doors, saying come and be part of our tournament. They were coming to us saying we want to be part of your tournament.
That process this time was much more straightforward because we looked at the different venues, we looked at availability, and as I say, 2015, England v New Zealand, it was special. If you look at that quarter-final weekend now we’ve got four venues of a very similar size, at a mid-point in the tournament. We start high, we have that mid-point, then we build back up to some pretty big venues. The Emirates Stadium is pretty big, Elland Road is pretty big, and Old Trafford is very big.
Q: How important Andrew Hill (chief executive officer of the 2017 World Cup) in bridging that gap in the southern hemisphere, and also how important was it to have international Rugby League played in the northern hemisphere in this gap?
Jon: Andrew has been utterly exceptional over the last few weeks. He’s been the last person I speak to at night and the first person I speak to in the morning as the clocks have worked slightly against us. We’ve retained Andrew, he will stay with us all the way through. So having a point of contact, not just having a person in Sydney but having a person who was the chief exec of the tournament in 2017, has been chief exec of an NRL club. I think he’s fundamental to our success.
The more international Rugby League we see played, the better it is for the tournament. We were there on Saturday in Gillingham, it was absolutely magnificent, and we hope to see more nations turning out mid-season or whenever it is. We’re not in control of that but the more international Rugby League that is played, the better, and hopefully to try and promote some of the nations we’re less familiar with. Greece, we’re seeing what Jamaica have been doing which is absolutely fantastic, and Brazil. How exciting is it to have a tournament featuring Brazil?