COVID adds uncertainty to 2021 RLWC plans

Scott Bailey
·2-min read

Rugby League World Cup officials would consider postponing next year's tournament ahead of playing it behind closed doors if COVID-19 stops spectators from attending.

Last Friday marked one year to the scheduled kick-off to the tournament in England, with the hosts due to take on Samoa.

Organisers are remaining hopeful the tournament can go ahead as planned, and are working closely with a number of other English sporting bodies.

They expect to have a clearer picture by March, but are well aware they need plenty of contingencies with the UK in the midst of a second wave.

The first preference is to play the tournament before full crowds and as planned, while they would also be willing to work with reduced capacities.

Beyond that, postponement by a year remains an option, albeit a "complicated" one they hope to avoid.

"We have a really robust plan in great detail, and postponement is not something we are working towards," chief executive Jon Dutton told AAP.

"However it's a thing if we reached a point in time where the environment doesn't improve with international travel and there are quarantine issues.

"If that's what we are forced into doing we have a plan and we would activate that."

That option would still likely be better for organisers than playing it behind closed doors, which would have severe financial implications.

"I wouldn't say it's an option, but (we could) play the tournament behind closed doors," Dutton said.

"The reason we are hesitant on that is we would need the support of the UK Government to actually do that.

"The business model we have is very heavily reliant on ticket sales.

"Behind closed doors is something that would happen to us, it's not something we'd choose to do.

"But at this point of time we are very confident the tournament will go ahead next year, while beholden to the environment."

Ticket sales have been impressive, with a ballot opened last week and the promise all will be refunded if games are cancelled.

Sport has almost exclusively been played behind closed doors in the UK since March, however ticket sales have been impressive for the tournament.

Next year's World Cup shapes as a crucial one for the sport.

The women's game has experienced particular growth, while the explosion of Pacific Island interest makes it the most open men's competition in years.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the tournament's official advertising campaign, where the Tongan men and Kiwi Ferns are front and centre while Australia barely feature.

"There's a lot of excitement in the UK watching the NRL about how strong Samoa may be and how strong Fiji may be after what Tonga did in the last World Cup," Dutton said.