World Cup officials have welcomed the renewed backing of the International Rugby League board for the end of season tournament in England.
The IRL board met last week and unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to doing everything possible to stage the World Cup, kicking off on October 23 at Newcastle’s St James Park and ending at Old Trafford on November 27.
"The Board of International Rugby League met on Thursday, 25 February and unanimously reiterated that the priority focus is the successful delivery of RLWC2021 in October and November 2021 in England," the IRL said in a statement.
"The board and RLWC2021 recognise the challenges ahead, but are encouraged by the recent update from the UK Government and the credibility and detailed planning already undertaken by the RLWC2021 team.
"The board will continue to support RLWC2021’s substantial work with all participating nations to ensure that every possible action is taken to deliver the biggest and best ever RLWC on schedule.”
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RLWC2021 CEO Jon Dutton told NRL.com in January that a decision on the viability of the tournament would be made in late March and the announcement by IRL board is a positive sign.
The support of the IRL board for the World Cup contrasts with a decision by their rugby union counterparts on Wednesday to recommend postponing this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand until 2022.
New Zealand’s strict quarantine requirements for anyone entering the country and uncertainty about international travel were cited by World Rugby among the reasons for deferring the tournament, which was to be held in September.
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The Women’s Rugby League World Cup will be played alongside the men’s and wheelchair tournaments in England, with the final to be a double-header at Old Trafford on November 27.
The British Government last week announced a four-point plan to lift the COVID-19 lockdown, with crowds up to 10,000 allowed at outdoor sporting events from May 17 and the possibility of all restrictions being eased from June 21.
The Super League season will kick off on March 26, with the grand final set down for October 9.
London is scheduled to host one pool of the UEFA European Football Championships from June 13, as well as elimination matches and the final on July 11, and British prime-minister Boris Johnston this week offered to move the whole tournament to England.
It seems inconceivable that the World Cup would not go ahead at the end of the season if the 2021 Euros are held mid-year, but the World Rugby announcement highlights issues that players may face returning to Australia and New Zealand after the tournament.
“RLWC2021 welcome the support from the IRL board following their board meeting last week,” Dutton said.
“Collectively we recognise that there are still challenges ahead, not least international travel and quarantine, but we will continue to work relentlessly hard to deliver the biggest and best ever Rugby League World Cup later this year.”
Dutton said he had been "greatly encouraged" by the British Government’s announcement that full capacity crowds may be allowed from June 21.
"We've remained positive and optimistic fans would be able to attend the tournament," Dutton said.
Canterbury Bulldogs prop Luke Thompson said he had been in regular contact with England coach Shaun Wane about the World Cup and was optimistic that it would take place as scheduled.
"They are starting to get the vaccine rolled out over there so fingers crossed that at the back end of the year it will be alright and will go ahead," Thompson said.
"I spoke to Shaun a few times, we’ve had a few Zoom calls and I am really hoping it goes forward. I would be really excited to play in the World Cup."
England host Samoa in the opening games at St James Park on October 23, with the Kangaroos to meet Fiji in Hull later the same day.
The Jillaroos play Cook Island in their first match at York on November 10, while the Wheelaroos face England first up in London on November 11.