Australia and New Zealand could go unpunished after World Cup postponement

RUGBY League World Cup chiefs admit they were forced into a corner by scheming NRL clubs who got their way and a 12-month postponement.

But Australia and particularly New Zealand, who signed a participation agreement to come in 2021 before withdrawing, could get away with wrecking hopes scot-free!

And the attitude Down Under towards the English bosses attempting to salvage it was shockingly summed up by Australia Rugby League Commission chief Peter V'landys saying: "I think they still thought we were convicts to the colony."

Now the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments are off until 2022, they will move forward in the calendar to avoid football’s World Cup, which starts on November 21.

Negotiations will start with all venues, with a rejig of the schedule likely to fit around the football season when it comes to the likes of Old Trafford, Arsenal’s Emirates and Newcastle’s St James’ Park.

Yet despite causing chaos, with Covid-19 concerns the official reason despite 74 pages of measures being put in place, Australia and New Zealand’s governing bodies could escape sanctions and play a match when the World Cup was meant to be on!

Troy Grant, chairman of International Rugby League – whose tournament the World Cup is but which now looks powerless – admitted any sanctions will be decided by its board.

World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton tried to put a brave face on the international game being overruled by NRL clubs and insisted UK Government and commercial support remains.

Some 85 per cent of about 120 players who are eligible for the other 14 nations – which would fill about half the sides in the NRL – said they would come over this year in an anonymous survey.

But once the 16 sides down under made it clear they were unwilling to release players for other nations – and were prepared to invoke workplace laws – Dutton knew he had to take the ‘least worst option’ – although complete cancellation was close.

He said: “What became clear is if we’d carried on it would’ve been irresponsible. It became apparent we couldn’t continue. It wouldn’t have been a world class tournament.

“85 per cent of players surveyed wanted to play but despite that there were a number of barriers we believed would prevent them from playing.

“There would’ve been a domino effect and it wouldn’t have been credible. It’s beyond disappointing we can’t stage it this year.

“We would’ve provided not only the safest rugby league event but the safest sports event with the things we put in place.

“But we could be in a stronger financial position in 2022 and over the last couple of weeks we’ve been approached by more potential commercial partners.

“This moment has to be unifying and if the sport comes together, it can be more powerful for it. We’ve behaved with professionalism, courtesy and dignity, we’ll rise above the behaviour of others.”

RLWC chairman Chris Brindley described the postponement as a ‘solemn day for our sport and a day that nobody wanted.’

But Grant, who is changing IRL from an ‘amateurish administration’, left open the possibility of no ramifications at all – and a game between the Kangaroos and Kiwis being played in the Autumn.

Differing ways of dealing with Covid-19 were also cited. The Australian state of Victoria, which is larger than Great Britain, has entered its SIXTH lockdown, over just 14 cases.

Grant said meekly: “The participation agreement was a conditional one as I understand it and there are numerous sanctions available but you’ve got to weigh up whether they would be counter productive – that will be a matter for the board.

“Nations can organise Test matches between themselves but for them to be Tests, they need to be sanctioned by IRL. However, if those propositions are raised to us, we’ll deal with them at the time.

“It wouldn’t be a good look if there are internationals in the southern hemisphere but we’ll deal with those if and when they arise.

“This isn’t what we wanted but the reality is we have two hemispheres that are managing the pandemic in opposite ways. The two nations acted on legal advice regarding the situation as they saw it.

“You can agree or disagree with it, that’s the reality of what we’re facing. A lot of lessons have been learned over the last couple of weeks.”

Now this World Cup is delayed, the next tournament will still take place in France in 2025 and talks over extending Super League’s season to November are underway. Although, the next campaign looks certain to begin earlier.

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