No plans to push back World Cup, says tournament chief

Rugby League World Cup Chief Executive Jon Dutton has reiterated that the competition is still scheduled to take place as expected in 2021.

The repercussions of Covid-19 have forced tournament planners to make a number of contingencies for the month-long event, including a possible delay to the competition in order to accommodate both Super League and the NRL, whoso own calendars have been affected by the pandemic.

The use of various stadia has also been considered, with several football grounds, including the Emirates and Old Trafford, set to stage games, though the Premier League’s calendar could also be changed moving forward.

However, Dutton insists the plans are just revisions that they do not expect to come to fruition, with the tournament set to open on October 23rd when England take on Samoa at St James’ Park, Newcastle. The tournament, which will stage the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events, will close on November 27th at Old Trafford, Manchester.

“We have to be realistic, we can’t bury our head and think all will be OK,” he said.

“We’ve done the opposite, we’ve done modelling on the impact of Covid-19, the calendar, where the season will start in both hemispheres. The Premier League season has been a consideration too. We’ve had to look at every possibility but we hope we don’t need to use some of those scenarios.

“There’s been five years worth of planning and to try and change any aspect is like trying to turn an oil tanker. We may have to react and change things but picking up the tournament and moving it is not something that has been at the forefront of our mind.

“We have to be mindful that moving it comes with a number of challenges. Yes, technically we can, but with accommodation and agreements with nations, there’s a great amount of detail that goes into staging a tournament and a huge investment.”

For now, Dutton has been encouraged by the NRL’s quick return to the field while he hopes Super League will restart by August, which would minimise the risk of the 2021 seasons being compromised.

“Getting rugby league back is imperative here in the UK. It’s happened very quickly in Australia which is fantastic, but both are to the tournament’s benefit.”

The full schedule for the World Cup will be revealed on July 21st.