Organisers of this year’s Rugby League World Cup have delayed a decision over whether the tournament will go ahead as planned but say progress has been made.
The tournament, which is due to kick off with hosts England facing Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on October 23, has been clouded with uncertainty due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Reigning champions Australia and New Zealand have yet to commit to the tournament, and NRL clubs are nervous about releasing their players, who would have to quarantine for two weeks on their return.
The World Cup organisers had hoped to make a decision over whether to go ahead or postpone the event by the end of this week, but although the committee will bide their time before reaching one they still remain optimistic after further negotiations with parties in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Our primary focus remains to deliver the Rugby League World Cup this year, as planned, and constructive progress has been made this week,” the organisers said in a statement.
“We are realistic about the complex challenges we are facing in these unprecedented times, including the international travel arrangements and quarantining of athletes and staff from the Southern Hemisphere.
“In the interests of delivering clarity and certainty to everyone involved in staging the tournament, a final decision will be made as soon as possible.
“However, we have made it clear that our decision making will not be dictated by deadlines if further consideration is required.”
The option if a postponement is confirmed is to play the tournament 12 months later, although that will involve a host of logistical problems.
This year’s World Cup is due to see the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events taking place concurrently, with more than 400 players and officials due to arrive from the Southern Hemisphere.
NRL clubs are expected to supply the bulk of players for half of the 16 nations competing in the men’s tournament and officials have been holding talks with the Australian Rugby League Players Association, including offering to lay on charter flights to reduce the risks associated with long-distance travel.
Among those eager for a decision to be made is St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf, who also coaches the Tonga national team, and earlier this week he underlined the importance of a decision being made as soon as possible.
“When I speak to people this side of the world there’s a real positivity about it going ahead; when I speak to people on the other side of the world there is definitely a lot more hesitation,” Woolf said.
“We need someone to come out and actually make a decision and we can either prepare for it – which is what we’re all trying to do at the moment – or move on. My personal preference, from a Tongan point of view, is that it goes ahead.
“The majority of Tongan players will be coming from the NRL and I have no hesitation in saying they would have no dramas with that whatsoever. I also know how much our players love being in camp together and, if they had to make some sacrifices, it wouldn’t worry them. They love being together.
“It’s more than just about Tonga, it’s about a number of nations and there’s a lot of things to be considered.”