Anger at Australia, NZ quitting Rugby League World Cup

·4-min read

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Australia and New Zealand were called “selfish” and "cowardly” for pulling out of the Rugby League World Cup in October in England on Thursday.

The southern hemisphere giants, who have won 12 of the 15 World Cups, stunned organizers when they withdrew citing player welfare and safety concerns in the pandemic. They want the World Cup postponed to 2022.

Only a week ago, organizers confirmed the joint men's, women's and wheelchair tournament was going ahead from Oct. 23 although Australia had yet to sign the participation agreement.

"The World Cup organizers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly,” English Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson said.

"To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this. This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.”

The issue was raised in the British Parliament on Thursday by Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, while Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, a Warrington fan, announced he would be meeting tournament organizers to discuss the matter. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi also said he and government officials were also happy to meet them.

More than 400 players and officials were expected to arrive from the southern hemisphere on chartered flights to reduce the risks associated with long-distance travel.

International Rugby League chair Troy Grant, also disgusted, said some players were considering switching allegiances to other nations to enable them to take part in the tournament.

“I have been in regular communication with the RLPA (Rugby League Players Association) and a number of international players and coaches who have been satisfied with the World Cup's bio-security arrangements and have expressed to me that they feel their own personal choice to participate or not in the World Cup has been taken from them,” Grant said.

"The RLPA have again committed to continue to work with IRL and the local organizing committee towards a 2021 tournament including Australian and New Zealand players who have dual eligibility and who are now keen to play for other nations.”

Grant said he will meet with the organizers to consider their options, including canceling the World Cup. The virus continues to disrupt British Super League fixtures but chairman Ken Davy was astounded how Australia and New Zealand could back out when their own people in other sports were playing overseas. Both countries were at the Olympics, the New Zealand cricket team was in England last month, and the Wallabies and All Blacks rugby teams had tours scheduled in November.

Britain also recently staged Euro 2020, Wimbledon and the British Open successfully with large crowds.

The governing bodies of Australia and New Zealand league made a joint statement saying they were worried about the risk of COVID-19 infection in Britain, Australia’s own worsening conditions, and the extended time in bio-secure bubbles in the World Cup for players following their own seasons.

"The risks . . . this year are insurmountable,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said.

"The COVID-19 situation in the U.K. shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over,” New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters said.

On Friday, the Rugby League Players Association echoed Grant's comments and said NRL players should still be able to run out for other countries, angry that Australian and New Zealand stars weren’t given the same chance.

“Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely,” RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said.

“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.”

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