Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Terry O'Connor says Australia and New Zealand were too hasty in withdrawing from Rugby League World Cup
Australia and New Zealand withdrew due to rising Covid cases in the UK; Australian Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) said they had been working with tournament organisers "for some time" on player health and safety protocols and confirm members wanted to compete in autumn tournament
Last Updated: 27/07/21 1:46pm
With the World Cup less than three months away, rugby league is still reeling at last Thursday's announcement that Australia and New Zealand won't take part in the tournament, citing player welfare in the current COVID pandemic.
For the first time in a while, their decision has seen rugby league dominate the sports agenda - and left everyone scratching their heads.
Australian athletes are currently competing in the Tokyo Olympics. The Wallabies rugby union side are due to visit these shores in November. As Super League chairman Ken Davy said last week: "It is quite astounding that athletes from Australia and New Zealand are about to compete in the Olympics, in addition to the Australian rugby union team being in the UK this Autumn, yet their rugby league counterparts have decided to withdraw."
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I believe that Australia's NRL is again demonstrating its contempt for Super League, and the international game. Were they to commit to our World Cup, those Antipodean players involved would undergo a fortnight's quarantine on their return Down Under, then eight weeks off - taking them out of the picture for pre-season friendlies building up to the NRL's return in 2022.
This isn't the players' decision - it's the suits who care more about the NRL than international rugby league.
Let's not forget, this tournament is backed the UK Government to the tune of £25m - and remains the biggest achievement in an international jersey. It's the arrogance that annoys me more than anything - thrown back in the faces of the players.
Let's have it right - I completely understand that some players might have genuine concerns about catching Covid. It's a devastating disease that has already cost far, far too many lives in the UK and around the world.
But the World Cup organising committee are doing everything they can to safeguard players' welfare - going over and above to ensure all participating athletes are cared for and looked after.
Super League, too, is bending over backwards to accommodate the tournament - playing double rounds to ensure our elite competition concludes on time. Only last Saturday, Hull Kingston Rovers flew to Perpignan at one day's notice, to fulfil a fixture with the Dragons in Castleford's place. Players continue to put their bodies on the line.
Because for every player worried, there's another who wants to come and be part of something special. My best experiences playing rugby came in World Cups, representing Ireland firstly as a player and later on the management side. We still get together every 12 months, 21 years on. Memories last forever.
I understand World Cup organisers were given just four minutes' notice of the Kangaroos and Kiwis' decision to pull out of the tournament - giving no time for them to formulate a rescue plan. The ARLC and NZRL were also in discussions with the Rugby League Players' Association in Australia, probably one of the strongest players' representative bodies in world sport.
It's run by former Hull KR favourite Clint Newton, who does a tremendous job representing the players in the NRL. It would have been easier to ask Clint to poll the players directly as to whether or not they wanted to take part in the tournament. I find it shambolic that the players weren't consulted.
Right now, the NRL has shifted its competition - hook, line and sinker - to the Gold Coast, at great expense, to keep the season alive. The players' families have also relocated - it's amazing what can be achieved in a short space of time if needs must. What's baffling is that the World Cup is still three months away - and yet the decision to withdraw has already been made.
If the tournament continues, whoever emerges as champions will have a hollow victory. The victors will forever be remembered as the winners of a tournament lacking its two biggest nations.
Reports suggest the World Cup organisers are to make a decision on the future of the tournament on Wednesday evening.
The suits Down Under need to rethink their decision, get off their high horse, consult the players, and trust the World Cup organisers to ensure the welfare of all competitors. Only then can we ensure the integrity of our sport.