Australia and New Zealand pull out of Rugby League World Cup 2021

Rugby League World Cup 2021

Australia and New Zealand have officially withdrawn from the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, citing player safety concerns. The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) released a statement on Thursday. The tournament is due to get underway on the 23rd of October with the final being held on the 27th of November. This edition of the RLWC was to be the first with 16 teams competing across 17 stadiums in England. 

Statement: Rugby League World Cup 2021

The joint statement reads: ”The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns. The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being. The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021.”

NZRL chief executive Greg Peters talked honestly about the UK’s pandemic strategy. “There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia,” he said. Peters simply said that it was “simply too unsafe” for New Zealand to travel to England. ARLC chairman Peter V’Landys echoed his colleague. He claimed, “the risks to the safety, health and well-being of the players and officials travelling…are insurmountable.”


This announcement throws the entire tournament into disarray. Australia have won the RLWC a record 11 times and are current holders. New Zealand won the tournament in 2008 and were second-favourites for 2021. These teams dropping out of a World Cup at short notice turns existing plans on their head. According to the Press Association, RLWC were only given four minutes notice of Australia and New Zealand’s decision. The tournament’s official account tweeted a short reply to the “disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL.” They remained defiant and endeavoured to “continue discussions with stakeholders to agree on the best way forward.” 

Peters and V’Landys once again called for a rescheduled RLWC in 2022. Player safety, both physical and mental, is crucial. Given that 13 of 16 NRL sides are already staying away from home in bio-security bubbles for the foreseeable future, V’Landys insisted that more of this is “too much to ask our players and officials to do.” With rising Covid cases and the withdrawal of two tournament favourites, will the Rugby League World Cup go ahead?

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