'Selfish': Australia and New Zealand condemned for Rugby League World Cup withdrawal

22 July 2021, 15:19 | Updated: 22 July 2021, 15:21

Australia won the last World Cup
Australia won the last World Cup. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Key rugby league figures have launched withering criticism at Australia and New Zealand after both teams withdrew from the World Cup in England – with one blasting it as a "selfish, parochial and cowardly decision".

Both sides said they would not compete because the UK's Covid situation made it "simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over".

It would also mean travelling at a time when England has removed almost all of its coronavirus laws.

But Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson said: "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.

"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."

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He said he hopes players will apply pressure to reverse the decision not to compete, and he pointed to the Australian athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics, New Zealand's men's cricket team playing in England during the summer, and the Australian rugby union team's planned arrival for games in October.

"Hidden in their letter is a paragraph that talks about clubs not wanting their players to have to quarantine at the end of the tournament," Johnson added.

England is set to host the 2021 tournament
England is set to host the 2021 tournament. Picture: Alamy

"They've known about this for months and months and months.

"I think what has happened here is that the Australian rugby league leadership has not been prepared to face down the parochial interests of the clubs."

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The Rugby League World Cup is due to start in October. Troy Grant, the International Rugby League chair, joined in with the condemnation of Australia and New Zealand's decision and will liaise with organisers about the next steps.

They will need to determine if the tournament can still go ahead.

He said he is in contact with the Australian Players Association which could see some figures, such as full-back James Tedesco, switch his national team allegiance back to Italy for the tournament.

There are now questions about whether the tournament can go ahead
There are now questions about whether the tournament can go ahead. Picture: Alamy

A joint statement from Australia and New Zealand said they wanted the tournament to be pushed back to 2022 "to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being".

In Australia, the National Rugby League relocated its competition to Queensland after Covid outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria.

"The Australian leadership has got to look those players in the eyes and justify their decision to snatch away their chance to participate at the pinnacle of the international game," Mr Johnson said.

"I believe when the players realise the implication of this, there might come pressure on the clubs from the Australian leaders and that they face them down."