RLWC 2021: Jon Dutton sees 'the perfect opportunity for rugby league to shine'
World Cup chief executive Dutton: "At the moment, if nothing else changes, I think we've got the perfect opportunity for rugby league to shine in 2021"
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 21/07/20 12:12pm
Jon Dutton is confident next year's Rugby League World Cup is well-placed to deal with any circumstances or knock-on effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Planning for the 2021 World Cup is proceeding as initially envisaged, with pre-registration tickets going on sale from September 21 and the competition itself due to open with hosts England against Samoa in Newcastle on October 23 next year.
Speaking on a media call as the fixtures for the 2021 World Cup were confirmed, tournament chief executive Dutton explained while contingency planning over delaying or even cancelling the event had taken place, the organisers are optimistic over kicking off on time.
"We've experienced four months like never before, we've had to look at every area of the tournament, options to push it back and ultimately had to look at what the cost to the public purse might be to cancel the tournament," Dutton said.
"The great thing is the government are fully supporting us, we will obviously have to be agile to anything else that happens, but for the time being we've got a great degree of confidence.
"We are going on sale in September, we've done an incredible amount of research on consumer confidence and, like all of these things, we just have to work with what we've got. We can't control the environment and we'll have to adapt.
"At the moment, if nothing else changes, I think we've got the perfect opportunity for rugby league to shine in 2021. We live in incredibly uncertain times and we just have to react as we can."
The great thing is the government are fully supporting us, we will obviously have to be agile to anything else that happens, but for the time being we've got a great degree of confidence.
Next year's men's tournament will be the biggest since the 2000 edition, with 16 teams taking part including debutants Greece - who are in Group A with England - and Jamaica.
Unlike in recent World Cups, the big guns of England, Australia, New Zealand and Tonga were seeded for the group stages, which has led to concerns about potential mismatches and blow-out scores during the early matches of the tournament.
Dutton does not believe that will damage the credibility of the World Cup though, underlining how the same issue faces rugby union's tournament and the Netball World Cup, which the RLWC2021 organisers partnered with when it was held in England last year.
Furthermore, he is in no doubt a 16-team tournament has to be the way forward for rugby league's global gathering.
"When we bid in 2016, we had the discussion with the international federation about going from 14 to 16 men's teams and, this being the 16th staging of the tournament, it feels like the tournament has to take that step towards maturity," Dutton said.
"You've got to remember, we've got to explain this beyond the core rugby league community, so in 2013 explaining a 14-team tournament to the non-core, even with the super pools, was hard.
"Let's make no bones about it, will there be some big scores? There will - but what we will then find is we'll have a very strong set of quarter-finals, and I think the quarter-finals is the benchmark for the health and well-being of a tournament - then we'll move through to, I'm sure, two incredible semi-finals and a final.
"You've got to look at the bigger picture and hopefully this is the way forward to grow it in the future."
Will there be some big scores? There will - but what we will then find is we'll have a very strong set of quarter-finals, and I think the quarter-finals is the benchmark for the health and well-being of a tournament
As well as newcomers in the men's competition, the women's and wheelchair World Cups taking place alongside it will feature nations from outside the sport's northern and southern hemisphere heartlands.
Brazil, who are making their debut in the competition, join 2017 semi-finalists Canada alongside the traditional powerhouses in the women's World Cup, while Spain and Norway will both compete in the wheelchair event.
Dutton knows the importance of the tournament, and by extension the sport, reaching new fans, but does not believe Canadian team Toronto Wolfpack's decision to withdraw from Super League for the rest of 2020 will be damaging to the World Cup.
"Obviously it's disappointing news for the sport as whole and I think there is plenty of water to flow under the bridge with that," Dutton said.
"But we are a tournament, we are a global tournament and we just need to stay focused on that on celebrating, promoting and reaching new people.
"This tournament will succeed by servicing the rugby league core community, by having a tremendous broadcast offer here in the UK and globally, but also we have to reach new fans."