Organisers admit they came close to cancelling the 2021 World Cup but insist they could be in a stronger position financially when the tournament is held in England in 2022.
A postponement, which had been anticipated since Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament a fortnight ago, citing safety fears amid the coronavirus pandemic, was finally confirmed on Thursday morning.
World Cup board chairman Chris Brindle told a press conference it was a “solemn day for the sport” while chief executive Jon Dutton said the decision to postpone was the “least-worst” option.
Organisers initially vowed to press ahead with the tournament in the autumn without Australia and New Zealand but were forced to acknowledge defeat when all 16 NRL clubs publicly backed the boycott, a move Dutton says was set to have a domino effect on the rest of the nations.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” Dutton said. “We’ve worked tirelessly as a team for almost six years to put the tournament into a quite remarkable position.
“Over the weekend, into Monday, it became apparent that we couldn’t continue. It wouldn’t have been a world-class tournament and it would have been irresponsible to carry on.
“Postponement was never an easy option. It’s fair to say that we did come close to a cancellation and ultimately I guess the least-worst option was to postpone.
Grant says he has already received assurances from both ARL Commission and NZRL of their support for 2022 and admitted tentative proposals for Australia and New Zealand to play Test match rugby league in the southern hemisphere at the end of this season “wouldn’t be a good look”.
“There is some relationship-building to be done,” Grant said. “We’re aiming to reunite the game. There were a lot of lessons in the last couple of weeks and we’ll learn from them.”
It was confirmed that the competition will still be known as RLWC2021, copying the move of Euro 2020, and Grant says the postponement will not affect plans to stage the next World Cup in France in 2025
Meanwhile, with the tournament set to start earlier, Dutton is hoping Super League clubs do not extend the 2021 season into November as they did last year.
“We’ve been in touch with Super League Europe and the RFL and I’ve sent a personal message to all of the club chief executives and owners this morning and got a lot of positive feedback,” he said.
“It’s about working together. We’ll sit down and work out what is best for the sport.”