Rugby Football League chief regulatory officer Karen Moorhouse provides her perspective of being forced to delay the World Cup to 2022.
There will be something significant missing from the North of England this autumn. The sixteenth Rugby League World Cup, which was to have included men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions and to have spread across 18 towns and cities, mostly in the North, has been postponed for 12 months following the decisions of key nations Australia and New Zealand not to travel.
Clearly, that represented a major disappointment to all in Rugby League. In my role as chief regulatory officer for the Rugby Football League, the sport’s National Governing Body, I have been working through the numerous issues raised by Covid-19 since the early months of 2020, with the sport delivering two men’s Super League seasons and returning to something much closer to normality this year – and like my fellow directors of RLWC2021, I remain convinced that we could have staged a safe and successful tournament.
As Jon Dutton, the RLWC2021 chief executive, said in announcing the decision in early August, it is incumbent on us all now to bounce back, and to capitalise on the additional 12 months of preparation to deliver the celebration of the sport of Rugby League and its communities.
We have some outstanding examples to follow of events that were postponed from 2020 to 2021 – most obviously the Euros, the Olympics and the Paralympics.
Jon and his team have already been able to confirm that the key venues which were to bookend the tournament this autumn – St James’ Park in Newcastle for the opening ceremony and England Men’s first match against Samoa, and Old Trafford in Manchester for a unique double header of Men’s and Women’s Finals – will remain in place for those landmark fixtures.
The dates have been brought forward slightly, with the opening match now to be held on 15 October and the Finals weekend now 18-19 November to avoid a direct clash with football’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
An initial three-week refund window was opened but the early signs have been hugely encouraging, with the vast majority of the tens of thousands of ticket-buyers opting to roll their purchases forward to 2022.
With a total of 61 matches scheduled across the three tournaments, and 32 teams involved from 21 nations, there is a daunting amount of work to be done before the full revised schedule can be announced later this year.
But we’ll get there, and with Australia and New Zealand now pledging full support for a rescheduled tournament in 2022 – which is crucial, given the number of players across many teams who are employed in the National Rugby League – we’ll still deliver our celebration of Rugby League across towns and cities which wouldn’t normally be involved in the staging of a World Cup.
As the RLWC2021 team have described it to fans from St Helens to Hull, from Castleford to Coventry, it’s a World Cup on your doorstep. It will definitely be worth waiting for.