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Australia and New Zealand have officially withdrawn from participating in this year’s Rugby League World Cup due to concerns over player safety.
The tournament will be held in the UK between October 23 and November 27, but both the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) have requested that it be postponed until 2022 to minimize the risk of players contracting COVID. -19.
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The withdrawal of the two heavyweight nations is a huge blow to the tournament, with Australia as the reigning world champions and the most successful nation in Rugby League World Cup history with 11 titles. The last team outside of Australia and New Zealand to win the World Cup was Great Britain in 1972.
Amid the deteriorating COVID-19 environment in Australia, where three states are currently closed, both Australia and New Zealand agreed that the risks associated with players and officials traveling to the UK are too great.
“Not participating in this year’s World Cup is not a decision the Commission has taken lightly, but we must put the interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority,” said Peter V’landys, chairman of the ARL Committee, in a statement issued a joint statement with the NZRL on Thursday.
“In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and welfare of the players and officials traveling from Australia this year to participate in the tournament are insurmountable.
“The majority of NRL players are currently living far from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then have to stay under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before being quarantined again on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.
“We have again requested that the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to allow all players to participate.”
“The safety and well-being of our people is the number one priority, and unfortunately cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction,” added NZRL CEO Greg Peters.
“There are big differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australia and recent developments have shown how quickly things can change.
“The tournament organizers have moved heaven and earth to make this work so it’s not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no signs of improving and it’s just too unsafe to send teams and staff.
“We understand how disappointing this is for fans and stakeholders, but the safety of players and staff remains paramount.”
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