World Cup on schedule despite coronavirus threat

Next year's Rugby League World Cup [RLWC] could be affected by Covid-19, but - at this stage - organisers are confident the tournament will take place as planned.

Friday, 27th March 2020, 5:04 pm
The Rugby League World Cup at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, which is among the host venues. Picture by Alex Broadway/SWpix.com.

With Betfred Super League and the NRL both on pause, the start and finish of next year’s domestic seasons may be pushed back, depending on when the current campaigns finish.

Both Grand Finals are scheduled to be played in October, 2021, just weeks before RLWC begins, but chief executive Jon Dutton insists cancelling or postponing the tournament - which will include men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions - has not been considered.

Dutton described the current situation as “fluid” and admitted there are “clearly many things to consider”, but remains upbeat about the prospects for the 2021 showpiece.

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RLWC chief executive Jon Dutton with the trophy. Picture by Alex Whitehead SWpix.com

“There are uncertainties about the domestic league here in the UK and also the NRL, but we have time on our side and we have done a lot of the planning,” Dutton said in an update on recent developments.

“There may be environmental factors that affect us in the future, but for the time being it is business as usual.”

Dutton stressed: “The Rugby League World Cup has to be played at that time, in October and November.

“We have Premier League and Championship grounds and many stadia across the 21 venues there are considerations about so we will have to keep a watching brief, but there are almost 21 months before the World Cup is due to start.”

Preparations for the tournament were due to be ramped up from April, but Dutton admitted it is “neither appropriate nor practical” to follow that timeline during the current crisis.

“We are mindful that, at this moment in time, there are hugely more important things for people to focus on than our tournament,” he conceded.

“We had an incredible start to the year with the draws at Buckingham Palace and that gave us great momentum to springboard into 2020.

“While that pace will now inevitably slow down, we will continue our preparations unless other environmental circumstances impact us further.”

The schedule of matches, due to be released from next month onwards, has been put back until July at the earliest, but Dutton confirmed the fixture list is virtually complete and insisted: “We believe it will excite people with the order of games against the venues we have selected.

“We have taken a very scientific approach to putting the 61-game schedule together.”

Team base camps will be revealed on June 10, which is 500 days before England face Samoa in the opening match at Newcastle’s St James’s Park.

Ticket prices will be confirmed around August and the tournament chief executive said they will be both “affordable and accessible”.

He also believes delaying the Olympics and football’s European Championships will make 2021 a global year of sport and is an “opportunity” for the World Cup, rather than a threat.