Sport Rugby League World Cup 2021: Why aren't Australia and New Zealand playing?

07:45  30 july  2021
07:45  30 july  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Australia and New Zealand have officially withdrawn from this year's Rugby League World Cup, putting the entire tournament in major jeopardy.

Billy Slater, Valentine Holmes, Cooper Cronk, Josh Dugan posing for a photo © Provided by Sporting News

Without the Kiwis and Kangaroos, it's hard to see how the tournament goes ahead. 

On top of that, the majority of players from other Pacific Island teams as well as a percentage of the England team would come from the NRL. 

Here's everything we know about the decision and the reasons why Australia and New Zealand withdrew from the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. 


Both organisations released a joint statement on Thursday afternoon confirming the news, citing player welfare and safety concerns.

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"The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns," the statement said. 

"The ARLC and NZRL has again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player wellbeing.

"The decision to withdraw from the RLWC2021 comes after considering the risk of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom, the worsening environment in Australia and the time a majority of NRL Telstra Premiership players will spend away from home under strict biosecurity conditions prior to the World Cup.

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"The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021."


“The withdrawal of the Australian teams has also seen the New Zealand teams withdraw and this may significantly compromise the tournament. I have spoken to RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton regarding the news and the obvious impact these decisions have on the tournament, and we will be reconvening to consider our options and next steps once the RLWC2021 Board and UK government have had time to consider and absorb the news themselves.

“My job from here is to understand the LOC’s and UK government’s attitude towards continuing with the RLWC without Australia and New Zealand, if that is a viable option, or consider other options available to us. The next week will be critical but despite whatever happens my job as IRL Chair is to pick up the pieces of international rugby league’s tarnished reputation as a result of these decisions when quite clearly other sports have demonstrated their ability to run events during the pandemic, both in England and in other countries with equal challenges from the pandemic, including Australian and New Zealand representation.

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“The obvious question being asked of us is why rugby league players are not able to make the same sacrifices as players from other sports? Sadly, players are telling me they haven’t had the opportunity to make that decision for themselves.”

Read the full statement here.


“The news overnight that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in the 2021 World Cup is no doubt disappointing for players who were hoping to represent their Nations in the tournament,” said RLPA Chief Executive Officer, Clint Newton.

“We have had feedback from a number of players eligible for these Nations stating their intentions to compete in the tournament, pending more information becoming available in the coming weeks. 

“Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely.

“We have worked closely with Rugby League World Cup staff for some time now and we are committed to continuing those discussions regarding player health and safety protocols. 

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“We have an obligation to advocate on behalf of all players to secure the best possible terms and conditions for the tournament, and this remains ongoing. 

“For players representing remaining participating Nations, our priority will be to help ensure appropriate health and safety measures are in place, and also provide them with the relevant information to make an informed decision about participation.

“We had anticipated that players from Australia and New Zealand would have that same opportunity, which has unfortunately been taken away from them with last night’s decision.”


ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys admitted it was a tough decision to make, but was the right one for all the players involved.

“Not participating in this year’s World Cup is not a decision the Commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first," he said.

"Protecting them is our absolute priority. 

“In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.

"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols.

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"They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.

“We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.”


Earlier in the week, Phil Gould spoke openly about the idea of postponing the World Cup and predicted it would occur.

Speaking on 100% Footy, the former NSW Origin coach explained the reasons why it wouldn't go ahead and the logistical nightmare that would be facing the NRL players.

“Melbourne Storm have been away from home for two years, Warriors have been away from home for two years...we finished late last year because we delayed our competition and the elite players were playing Origin right through the end of November; we had a shortened pre-season this year," he said.

"The other concern is if we go over to England this year and play in those competitions, they’ve got to go into quarantine periods when they come home, and then they’ve got to have eight weeks off per the CBA to have a holiday. They’re not training until February – they start training in February to start playing in March, we get another disaster next season. Logistically it’s not possible.

"The thing is, this is a tournament that has been ratified by the IRL body, the chairman of which comes from the UK. They’ve got funding from the UK government for it, so they are very keen to see it go ahead.

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"Without the NRL – it not only makes up the Australian team, but it will make up all the other Pacific Island teams and the New Zealand team, because all those players come from the NRL.

"Then it’s the vaccination issue – we’re not vaccinated here in this country, we’re very small vaccination numbers. We’ll have players that won’t get vaccinated because of their own beliefs.

"When that’s all explained to them, I don’t think any players are going to the World Cup in England at the end of the year.

"The league told them six months ago to postpone it, and the international body has forged ahead with it. Without the NRL, I don’t know how it exists."


Warriors CEO Cameron George has remained an outspoken figure throughout the entire pandemic and its affects on rugby league, with his club facing plenty of adversity in the past 18 months.

He explained the risks of holding this year's World Cup and admitted he believes it should be postponed. 

“Personally, I don’t think it should go ahead on the basis that lies on the risk over there,” he said on SENZ Mornings with Ian Smith.

“30,000 cases a day with COVID, and we’re shutting down states in Australia with 35 (cases).

“It’s a big risk. For us on a personal note, we lose all of our players thereabouts until the end of January next year, with the competition starting in March. It has a huge impact on us.”

"I also appreciate and respect the guys’ cultures and how they wish to represent them. 

“I don’t think it should go ahead, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”


While the likes of Gould and George were against the idea of the World Cup going ahead, Kiwis coach Michael Maguire was keen to go.

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Speaking on ABC Grandstand on Thursday night, Maguire revealed their were players who were 'nervous' in the camp, but they were still open to heading to England. 

"I definitely would have gone," he said.

"It's not often that you get to have a shot at the title, but we have to appreciate bigger things going on in the world right now. 

"There were mixed feelings in our camp and the boys were nervous about the situation, but still keen to go."


At this stage, it would be hard to see how this could occur.

Even though the decision has come from the ARLC and NZRL, the reality is that a large portion of the players who would compete in the RLWC would be NRL players.

England, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and PNG would have plenty of players from the NRL, which seem unlikely with Peter V'landys in charge. 

The likelihood is that the World Cup will have to be postponed, but at this stage no official decision has been made since the withdrawals of Australia and New Zealand. 

Rugby League World Cup postponed to 2022 .
The Rugby League World Cup has been postponed to 2022 after tournament organisers opted not to pursue going ahead with the event in England this year.Organisers confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the end-of-season tournament would not go ahead in 2021, as had originally been planned.

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