Jon Dutton: Rugby League World Cup 2021 postponement the 'least-worst option'
Organisers of this year's World Cup in England were faced with difficult choices to postpone to next year or cancel the tournament; "We've stood up for what we believe in and, most importantly, this has always been about the players," RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton said
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 05/08/21 4:24pm
Chief executive Jon Dutton believes the decision to postpone the Rugby League World Cup in England to 2022 is the "least-worst option" available to the tournament organisers.
Confirmation of this year's men's, women's and wheelchair World Cups being put back a year came on Thursday morning, following on from Australia and New Zealand deciding they would not be competing in 2021 due to player safety concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic.
Organisers had initially intended to push ahead without the defending champions and the 2008 winners, holding discussions over the possibility of replacing them with Indigenous and Maori representative teams, but further barriers have since arisen which have forced the postponement.
Rugby League World Cup postponed until 2022
The 2021 Rugby League World Cup will be postponed until next year.
They include a statement released by the 16 NRL clubs last week supporting the Australian Rugby League Commission's decision and while Dutton admitted cancelling the World Cup altogether was considered, ultimately putting it back a year was the only realistic option.
"I think it's fair to say we did come close to cancellation and ultimately, I guess, the least-worst option was to postpone," Dutton, who reiterated the players taking part remain at the forefront of any decision-making around the tournament, said.
"There are a lot of people hurting at the moment and a lot of people who have invested time and energy, but it's about being responsible.
"Being a leader is about making tough decisions - maybe not popular decisions - and I think we've done that. We've stood up for what we believe in and, most importantly, this has always been about the players.
We can announce this morning that the tournament will be postponed until 2022. We have done everything in our power to stage the tournament this year, but it is not to be. 🏆— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) August 5, 2021
Remain supportive of the tournament, the teams, the players and most of all our amazing sport. ❤️
"As administrators, we don't have a right to take away the hopes and dreams of players to play in the tournament. For that reason, we fought so hard to ensure we could stage the World Cup. Unfortunately, that will be next year."
Although the decision to postpone means Australia and New Zealand are now set to participate when the World Cup takes place in 2022, a survey conducted over the past week of around 120 NRL players who would have been representing the other nations involved this year showed 85 per cent were eager to play this year.
International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant has spoken to representatives of both the ARLC and New Zealand Rugby League who have given assurances and commitments over their participation next year.
The head of the sport's global governing body is also planning to speak with them on how to help support the rest of the international game now the World Cup has been put back.
As administrators, we don't have a right to take away the hopes and dreams of players to play in the tournament. For that reason, we fought so hard to ensure we could stage the World Cup.
RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton
"We need to have further conversations how they can assist us, particularly with the smaller nations who are impacted significantly," Grant said.
"They've made some significant investments to get to the World Cup which are now impacting on their own operations, so there is a lot of work to do.
"There is some relationship building to do, but I've got confidence we will have a magnificent World Cup next year and it's an ongoing challenge to keep 40-odd ranked nations happy and meeting a lot of demands from what is a very small organisation I have the privilege to lead."
The decision to postpone has not been taken lightly and there remain challenges for the organisers, although draft dates for the tournament have already been drawn up and will be announced following further consultation with Super League and the RFL over what the domestic calendar will look like in 2022.
We hope fans will continue to support the tournament. Your tickets will automatically transfer and will be valid for 2022, there is nothing more you need to do. 🎟— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) August 5, 2021
We understand that some fans may require a refund. The process and timeline will be communicated on 12 August. 📅 pic.twitter.com/iYUDuwdQp4
Dutton admitted there is likely to be some disruption in terms of venues as a result of changes to the 2022/23 English football season caused by the World Cup in Qatar being held in November and December next year, but he is optimistic the 18 host cities for the three events will be unchanged.
There will be no change to the format of the tournament or the order the games will be played in though, while the strong commercial performance so far means the World Cup is well-placed financially to cope with being put back by a year.
"We worked tirelessly as a team for almost six years to get the tournament into a quite remarkable position," Dutton said.
"Over the weekend and into Monday it became apparent it couldn't continue, it wouldn't have been a world-class tournament and it would have been irresponsible to carry on, so we looked to 2022. Clearly, we've got some work to do.
"The health environment, we can't predict the future and we appreciate more than anyone it's a radically different environment and some of the pressures Australia and New Zealand faced with the competition.
"The work now is to ensure we have everything in place, we have the guarantees, we've met all of the conditions thrown at us and, with time, we're confident we will be able to do that."