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Kangaroos, Kiwis boycott World Cup over safety concerns

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 22/07/2021 Adrian Proszenko
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 04: Peter V'landys outisde at the State Funeral for rugby league immortal Robert 'Bob' Fulton at St Marys Cathedral in Sydney, Friday, June 4, 2021. The former Australia rugby league Test captain and coach died, aged 74. (Photo by James Gourley-Pool/Getty Images) © 2021 Getty Images

Australia and New Zealand have pulled out of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup citing safety concerns, in a move expected to torpedo the showpiece international event.

On the same day league officials expressed a desire for the code to become an Olympic event in time for the Brisbane 2032 Games, the Australian Rugby League Commission and the New Zealand Rugby League informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers of their stance.

In a joint statement, the ARLC and NZRL said the decision to withdraw from the World Cup came after considering the risk of COVID-19 infection in the United Kingdom, the worsening environment in Australia and the time a majority of NRL players will spend away from home under strict biosecurity conditions prior to the World Cup.

The ARLC and NZRL 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's participation.

ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys said player wellbeing and safety must come first.

"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," V'landys 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. 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."

NZRL CEO Greg Peters said the decision to withdraw was in the best interests of players and officials.

"The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction," he said.

"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.

"We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved; however player and staff safety remains paramount."

The development is a huge blow, given the British government isn't prepared to make the necessary investment if the World Cup is delayed a year.

"RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League," the tournament organisers said in a statement.

"RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course."

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