RUGBY league chiefs have branded Australia and New Zealand’s decision to pull out of this year’s World Cup ‘selfish, parochial and cowardly.’
The defending champions and fellow international powerhouse say they will not travel to England for the Autumn’s tournament because of fears over Covid-19.
But that decision, which has been branded by many as the death of Test rugby league, has been slammed by Rugby Football League president Simon Johnson.
He said: “They’ve said that because they’ve not had the assurances they’ve asked for they are not able to travel to participate in the tournament this year.
“They believe the problems are insurmountable. The difficulty I think for us is that this selfish, parochial and cowardly decision is one that needn’t have been taken.
“The Rugby League World Cup organisers have bent over backward to offer every assurance to the Australians and to the Kiwis.
“I think the British public would want to know why they’ve made that decision now about a tournament in October when they have athletes currently in Tokyo participating in the Olympics, when their rugby union team the Wallabies are planning to come to Wales in October, when the New Zealand cricket team have been here already to participate.
“There is something that the rugby league authorities believe is insurmountable, while other sports and athletes seem to have no problem.
“Rugby League World Cup organisers have made considerable commitments at great expense, as have the British Government, to do what they can to guarantee the safety of the athletes when they are here and when they return and travel between.
“I’m afraid that the rugby league authorities in Australia and New Zealand have just not been prepared to accept those assurances.”
Despite the outrage, Peter V’Landys, chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, insisted player wellbeing and safety must come first.
He said: “Not participating in this year’s World Cup is not a decision the Commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority.
“In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.
“The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols.
“They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.
“We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.”
New Zealand Rugby League chief exec Greg Peters added: “The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.
“There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.
“The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.
“We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved; however player and staff safety remains paramount.”
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