Anger is mounting over Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawal from the Rugby World Cup on Thursday, which will be held in England later this year, due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in the UK.
Simon Johnson, chairman of Rugby Football League, the host’s governing body, described the decision by the two leading teams in the world as ‘selfish, parochial and cowardly’. He pointed out that athletes from both countries are in Tokyo for the Olympics and that their equivalent Rugby Football Union teams will be playing international matches in the United Kingdom this year.
“They got the assurance that they needed this tournament to be safe, to participate in it, to travel there and to return from there,” he said. “It will be very, very interesting to see what the athletes have to say about this.”
The Australian Rugby League Commission and the New Zealand Rugby League said they were making the decision because of “concerns and safety of players”. The replacement called for the tournament to be played next year to reduce ‘the risk’ of players getting the virus.
The organizers of the Rugby World Cup in 2021 said that the decision was ‘disappointing’ and that it could have major consequences for the international rugby league. He added that it had been informed ‘at very short notice’ and would discuss the ‘best way forward’ with its stakeholders.
The World Cup series will take place across England between October 23 and November 27, from Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle to London.
The Australian men’s team are the holders and have won the competition 11 times already. The country’s women’s team is currently in the world first place and has won the competition twice. New Zealand is one of only three countries to have won the men’s or women’s competition. The men’s team is currently the first place in the world, the women’s team second.
Clare Balding, who is the RFL’s president, an honorary role, told BBC Breakfast shows that the withdrawal was ‘catastrophic’ for the competition. The world cups for men, ladies and wheelchair heads must all be held simultaneously for the first time.
The shock draw comes a week after the organizers of the tournament confirmed that the event would continue according to schedule. At the time, organizers said they had received a record sponsorship offer and that ticket sales “exceeded expectations”.
The British government lifted most coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19, paving the way for the stadium to host the full event for sporting events.
Over the past few months, the UK has hosted a number of high-profile sporting events with a significant crowd, although stadium capacity has been reduced for events such as the Euro 2020 soccer tournament and the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Last weekend, about 140,000 people watched the British Grand Prix Formula One car race at Silverstone.