Australia and New Zealand announced Thursday, July 22, that they would not participate in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup scheduled for England due to fears “For the health of the players and their safety” linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a joint statement, the federations of the first two rugby union nations called on the organizers to postpone this competition, still scheduled from October 23 to November 27 in England, until next year.
Defending champions Australia were due to face Fiji in the city of Hull (east) on day one of the competition and New Zealand play against Lebanon in Warrington (west) the next day.
Australia and New Zealand say they made the decision taking into account the risks of contamination in England, the worsening pandemic and the time players would have to spend away from home to meet health measures before the start. of the competition.
Organizers, who confirmed last week that the World Cup would be held on schedule, called the decision of the two federations a “Disappointing” and added that she could have “Important consequences for rugby union”.
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“RLWC2021 has been briefed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all participants to agree on the best way forward. A press release will be published in due course ”, they clarified.
Anger of the president of the English federation
Anger was even stronger for England Rugby Union boss Simon Johnson, who called the New Zealanders and Australians’ decision a“Selfish, stubborn and cowardly”.
“I could agree with them if I didn’t know that Australian athletes are, right now, in Tokyo for the Olympics, that New Zealand cricketers have played in England this summer and that the Australian rugby union team will come for a series of matches in October ”, insisted Simon Johnson.
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“It was not an easy decision not to participate in the World Cup, but we must put the best interests of our players and managers first, protecting them is essential., for his part argued Peter V’landys, the president of the Australian federation. In the current context, the risks posed to the safety, health and well-being of our players and officials who will have to leave Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable ”.
Greg Peters, his New Zealand counterpart, for his part stressed that this withdrawal decision was taken in the best interests of players and officials. “The tournament organizers have moved heaven and earth to make it happen so it was not an easy decision, but the situation on the UK pandemic front is showing no signs of stopping. ‘improvement and it is simply too dangerous to send the players and the management there “, said Mr Peters.