The Rugby League World Cup has been postponed until 2022 after tournament organisers bowed to pressure from NRL clubs along with Australia and New Zealand.
Organisers confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the end-of-season tournament would not go ahead in 2021, as had originally been planned.
Officials had long been adamant it was this year or never for the tournament to go ahead in England, owing to a number of challenges for 2022.
In a strongly-worded statement, World Cup officials claimed “the non-release of up to 400 players, match officials and staff members from the NRL competition” had forced their hand.
We can announce this morning that the tournament will be postponed until 2022. We have done everything in our power to stage the tournament this year, but it is not to be. 🏆
Remain supportive of the tournament, the teams, the players and most of all our amazing sport. ❤️
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) August 5, 2021
Organisers were again adamant that they had met all requests from nations, including “rigorous health measures that have been keeping thousands of elite athletes from around the world safe”.
RLWC CEO Jon Dutton again claimed players’ wishes to compete in the tournament had not been listened to.
“We have always prioritised player voice and player choice,” Dutton said.
“We have established a player working group, met with senior players and in the last few days commissioned a player survey to domestic players in Australia and New Zealand that showed more than 85 per cent wanted to compete at RLWC2021 this year.
“However, following the disappointing decision of the ARLC and NZRL to withdraw, and the subsequent impact on player availability for other competing nations, it is apparent that delivering the tournament this year would not be feasible.”
The announcement comes just three weeks after officials staged a press conference where they confirmed it was full steam ahead for the event to go ahead in 2021.
However, they were rocked just a week later when both Australia and New Zealand pulled out, prompting heavy criticism from the International Rugby League.
NRL clubs then doubled down on the withdrawal last week, indicating they would not release players to travel to the tournament.
That put pay to any plans of continuing with the tournament without the top-two ranked teams, with cancellation at one stage considered more likely than postponement.
However, Thursday’s decision now means the tournament will clash with the FIFA World Cup, creating an uphill battle for publicity in the host nation.