Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson has savaged Australia and New Zealand as "selfish, parochial and cowardly" over their decision to pull out of the World Cup.
Organisers are frantically trying to work out their next step after being caught on the hop by the joint decision of the holders and New Zealand, which came just seven days after it was announced the tournament would go ahead as planned.
It provoked an angry response from the RFL, the governing body for professional rugby league in England.
"The World Cup organisers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly," Johnson said.
"To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this.
"This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership."
The decision comes a week after the NRL relocated its competition to Queensland following fresh COVID outbreaks in NSW and Victoria but Johnson says the rugby league authorities in Australia are bucking the trend as the world emerges from lockdown.
"I would have some sympathy for them were I not aware that right now Australian athletes are in Tokyo for the Olympics, that New Zealand men's cricketers have played in England this summer and that the rugby union team from Australia will be coming for a series of internationals in October," he said.
"So, if their sports' governing bodies are comfortable with the arrangements that are made, why are the rugby league authorities not satisfied with that?
"I think the impact, particularly for women's rugby league and wheelchair rugby league will be particularly devastating.
"And I cannot escape the irony of a country which only yesterday was awarded the Olympic Games for 2032 and which promotes itself as the home of sport, has taken a decision that might well cause a fatal blow to the development of women's rugby league and wheelchair rugby league."