World Cup chief confident of delivering a strong tournament in 2022

Rugby League World Cup Chief Executive Jon Dutton is confident that he and his team will be able to deliver a viable and exciting World Cup in 2022, after the disappointment of having to postpone the tournament from 2021 – a decision that was confirmed last Thursday morning.

Dutton confirmed that all options had been on the table, including the possibility of cancelling the tournament altogether, but that he is confident that the organisers have now come up with the best option.

“Postponement was never an easy option,” said Dutton.

“Our venues, our commercial partners, our broadcast partners, we were less than 90 days away and we had got the tournament into a remarkable place.

“We did come close to cancellation but the least worst option was to postpone.

“A lot of people have invested time and energy, but it’s about being responsible. Being a leader is about making tough decisions, maybe not popular decisions, and we have done that, we have stood up for what we believe in and, most importantly, for us this has always been about the players. As administrators, we don’t have a right to take away the hopes and dreams of players to play in this tournament and for that reason we fought so hard to ensure we could stage the World Cup, but unfortunately that will be next year.”

And Dutton is confident that the UK government, which is represented on the board of RLWC2021, will continue to support the event next year.

“What is uplifting is that through the entire process, the UK government has stood side by side with us, both civil servants and politicians,” said Dutton.

“Civil servants were represented at our board meeting on Wednesday.

“Clearly there is some work to be done, but what I would point to is that our exceptional commercial performance has really made sure that we don’t have any great demand on the public purse, given the significant investment so far.”

Over the previous weekend, working with the Australian Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA), the World Cup team had undertaken a survey of NRL players about their desire to play in the World Cup.

“We surveyed players in partnership with the RLPA and the nations,” explained Dutton.

“There was no surprise that 85 per cent of the players surveyed want to play in the World Cup.

“But what became apparent over the weekend was that there were a number of barriers that we believed would prevent players from playing. But the survey just shows the appetite of players.

“I would like to place on record my thanks to Clint Newton (RLPA CEO), who has been nothing but outstanding over the last few months in working with us.”

Although some observers may fear that the decision to postpone could have a devastating financial impact on the profitability of the tournament, Dutton appears not to be too concerned about that possibility.

What are the financial effects of the decision?

“We will probably be in a stronger financial position in 2022,” he insisted.

“We had some extra costs in terms of charter flights and quarantine that we expect won’t be there in 2022, which is obviously balanced by rebates to partners and refunds to people who have bought tickets.

“But we are in a really strong position, we have our commercial partners in place and our broadcast partners, which will be unaffected next year.

“Another twelve months will bring on board opportunities to gather more commercial partners.

“Over the last couple of weeks we have been approached by more people. So overall we will come out of this in a strong position. We have a commitment we have made to the international federation, which we will work towards and ultimately the profit and loss account will look strong, but there is obviously some more work to do.

“We have more conversations to have with government and we just have to work through the scenarios, but we believe we will be able to stand on our own two feet for as long as we can through our exceptional commercial performance.”

And the World Cup team is already looking at timings for World Cup matches to be held next year.

“We have some draft dates and we need some consultations, but we are very conscious of the FIFA World Cup, which begins on Monday 21 November,” he said.

“We wouldn’t expect to go up against that. We have some draft dates, which we hope to confirm shortly, but we just have to speak to Super League and the RFL about their season.

“There will be some disturbance, inevitably, if we look at the football calendar in particular.

“We have spoken to our host cities and we expect them to remain with us; the schedule will be the same, with the opening game remaining as it is. There may be some venue changes.”

And, asked how he would ensure that the Aussies and Kiwis wouldn’t again pull out at the last minute next year, Dutton is confident it won’t happen again.

“We want them to sign binding participation agreements and that is something we have already started work on with Troy (Grant, Chairman of International Rugby League) and we have had some positive conversations already with the ARLC and the New Zealand Rugby League.”

The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.