Australia and New Zealand withdraw from Rugby League World Cup due to coronavirus concerns

Australia and New Zealand will not compete in the Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year due to coronavirus concerns.

The tournament is set to be held in England between October 23 and November 27 and was to include 16 teams for the first time – an increase of two from the previous two tournaments.

The news will come as a blow for the competition with both Australia, the current holders, and New Zealand seen as favourites to lift the trophy.

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A joint statement released by both nations cited the pandemic and “player welfare and safety concerns”, saying: “The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.

“The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.”

NZRL chief executive Greg Peters cited “stark differences” between the management of the pandemic in the UK and Australasia and insisted it was “simply too unsafe” for the teams to take part in the tournament.

He said: “There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

“The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it’s simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.”

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