The future of the Rugby League World Cup in England is now in doubt after Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament over Britain’s handling of the Covid pandemic – as organisers branded them ‘selfish, cowardly and parochial’.
The countries’ governing bodies gave organisers just four minutes’ notice before they released a statement to say they would no longer participate in the event scheduled for October, with a senior official saying it was ‘simply too unsafe’ because of the prevalence of Covid in the UK.
It remains to be seen whether the tournament can now go ahead in 2021 without Australia, who have won the tournament a record 11 times, and 2008 champions New Zealand.
The organisers face three unpalatable options — cancelling the tournament, postponing for 12 months or proceeding without the two biggest nations who have won every tournament since 1972. All three options would result in significant financial losses, with cancellation likely to cost the sport tens of millions of pounds.
The extraordinary development and subsequent feuding between the northern and southern hemispheres leaves the World Cup in crisis. World Cup bosses will continue to pressure Australia and New Zealand to change their minds and have already enlisted the Government to help, with Boris Johnson lobbying to his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
On Thursday, Simon Johnson, chairman of the Rugby Football League, pulled no punches as he hit back after the devastating announcement.
‘This selfish, parochial and cowardly decision is one that need not have been taken because the Rugby League World Cup organisers have bent over backwards to offer every assurance to the Australians and Kiwis,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Troy Grant, chair of the International Rugby League, the World Cup’s main organiser, also blasted the move in a similarly strong-worded intervention.
‘The obvious question being asked of us is why rugby league players are not able to make the same sacrifices as players from other sports?’ he said. ‘Sadly, players are telling me they haven’t had the opportunity to make that decision for themselves.’
The decision coincides with Prime Minister Morrison apologising for a stuttering vaccination programme that puts Australia at the bottom of the OECD leaderboard, with just 14.98% of over-15s jabbed. Half the country is in lockdown despite a stringent border shutdown and cases are rising – although its outbreak, like New Zealand’s, still remains tiny in comparison to Britain’s.
It also comes as pictures emerged of Aussie rugby league WAGs sharing marshmallows and ice lollies across balconies while staying in a Queensland quarantine hotel, in what appears to be a breach of rules to stay in a Covid bubble.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) poses with the Rugby League World Cup trophy last week as excitement grew during the build-up to the tournament
Half Australia is in lockdown despite a stringent border shutdown and cases are rising – although they still remain far below the numbers seen in the UK. New Zealand has also seen very few Covid cases
‘We are not prepared to take this lying down’: British rugby league chief’s full withering verdict
Today, Simon Johnson, chairman of the Rugby Football League, pulled no punches as he hit back after the devastating announcement. Below are comments he made to the Press Association.
‘The World Cup organisers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly.
‘To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this. This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.
‘I would have some sympathy for them were I not aware that right now Australian athletes are in Tokyo for the Olympics, that New Zealand men’s cricketers have played in England this summer and that the rugby union team from Australia will be coming for a series of internationals in October.
‘So, if their sports’ governing bodies are comfortable with the arrangements that are made, why are the rugby league authorities not satisfied with that? I think the impact, particularly for women’s rugby league and wheelchair rugby league will be particularly devastating.
‘And I cannot escape the irony of a country which only yesterday was awarded the Olympic Games for 2032 and which promotes the itself as the home of sport, has taken a decision that might well cause a fatal blow to the development of women’s rugby league and wheelchair rugby league.
‘Hidden in their letter is a paragraph that talks about clubs not wanting their players to have to quarantine at the end of the tournament. They’ve known about this for months and months and months.
‘I think what has happened here is that the Australian rugby league leadership has not been prepared to face down the parochial interests of the clubs.
‘They need to face them down and I think they will because there have been a lot of communication from players about how much they want to play in the World Cup.
‘The Australian leadership has got to look those players in the eyes and justify their decision to snatch away their chance to participate at the pinnacle of the international game.
‘I believe when the players realise the implication of this, there might come pressure on the clubs from the Australian leaders and that they face them down. We will not take this lying down.’
The organisers have been insistent that they can host a safe tournament, pointing to the use of charter flights and quarantine arrangements.
The view of the Rugby Football League is that Australia, in particular, is trying to protect their lucrative domestic game, with clubs fearing that players having to quarantine on return for 14 days will miss pre-season. However, a number of leading Australian stars said on Thursday that they wanted to take part.
But New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters cited ‘stark differences’ between the management of the pandemic in the UK and Australasia and insisted it was ‘simply too unsafe’ for the teams to take part in the tournament.
He said: ‘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.’
The decision comes a week after the Australian rugby league team relocated its competition to Queensland following fresh Covid outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria but Rugby Football League chair Simon Johnson said the rugby league authorities are bucking a worldwide trend.
‘I would have some sympathy for them were I not aware that right now Australian athletes are in Tokyo for the Olympics, that New Zealand men’s cricketers have played in England this summer and that the rugby union team from Australia will be coming for a series of internationals in October,’ he said.
‘So, if their sports’ governing bodies are comfortable with the arrangements that are made, why are the rugby league authorities not satisfied with that? I think the impact, particularly for women’s rugby league and wheelchair rugby league will be particularly devastating.
‘And I cannot escape the irony of a country which only yesterday was awarded the Olympic Games for 2032 and which promotes the itself as the home of sport, has taken a decision that might well cause a fatal blow to the development of women’s rugby league and wheelchair rugby league.’
He added: ‘We are not prepared to take it lying down.’
A joint statement from the two nations read: ‘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.’
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys AM reiterated his New Zealand counterpart’s concerns and issued a renewed appeal for the tournament to be rescheduled for next year.
‘In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and well-being of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable,’ he said.
The Rugby League World Cup tournament organisers said the decision to withdraw at short notice as ‘disappointing’ – as it was claimed they were told about it just four minutes before the announcement.
Australian rugby league star James Tedesco (left) and the Kiwis’ Benji Marshall are among the players who will not be taking part in this year’s tournament after their countries’ sporting authorities pulled out
Reigning champions Australia (pictured) and New Zealand have withdrawn from this autmun’s Rugby League World Cup in England over coronavirus fears
‘RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League,’ a statement read. ‘RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course.’
Troy Grant, chair of the International Rugby League, the World Cup’s main organiser, said: ‘Late this afternoon I received a call from Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman Peter V’landys AM informing me that the commission had met and voted not to sign the participation agreements for Rugby League World Cup 2021 and would not be supplying Australian players for the three competitions. I appreciate Peter calling me to explain the rationale behind the ARLC’s decision and, whilst I can appreciate the ARLC’s intent to ensure player safety and welfare, I find it difficult to find the words that adequately describe my disappointment with that decision.
‘Every sporting organisation, every industry, government and family globally have been impacted by this pandemic. RLWC2021 and IRL only recently stated that we fully appreciated the challenges facing us to run a successful Rugby League World Cup with player and officials safety our priority and we have met every request regarding this issue made of us by ARLC, New Zealand Rugby Leauge and the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA). All designed to mitigate potential risks and satisfy the demands of ARLC and NZRL.’
Mr Grant said extensive work has been carried out to ensure the tournament was safe.
He added: ‘The obvious question being asked of us is why rugby league players are not able to make the same sacrifices as players from other sports? Sadly, players are telling me they haven’t had the opportunity to make that decision for themselves.’
The announcement comes just days after UK Prime Minister Johnson posed with the trophy outside No 10 Downing Street, where he was joined by tournament ambassadors and executives. Australia and New Zealand both signed participation agreements to compete in the World Cup but could now face huge financial penalties after withdrawing from the tournament at short notice.
Sportsmail learned earlier this month that the contracts contain significant financial penalties for any nation that withdraws at late notice.
The World Cup is projected to generate around £40million so cancellation would have disastrous financial implications.
In addition, postponing it by 12 months could result in a series of costly knock-on effects. A one-year delay would clash with the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar. It is feared it would create the possibility the BBC could withdraw some live coverage.
Johnson admitted that cancellation was a distinct possibility, due to the likelihood that the prevalence of Covid-19 will remain high in 2022.
Johnson added: ‘I don’t think postponing is a real option. If we don’t do it in 2021 there’s a chance it may not happen at all. I’m not sure from a Covid perspective what’s going to be different in 2022 that isn’t here in autumn 2021.
‘By that time Australia will have played a whole rugby union Test series here, the Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games will have happened, we’ll have full stadiums at football.
‘We have been bending over backwards for many months to accommodate their concerns. I’m sorry, but I have no choice other than to call this a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision.’
Sportsmail also reported this month that Australia were threatening to undermine the credibility of the tournament by sending a reserve team.
There was resistance from National Rugby League (NRL) clubs in Australia, who called for the competition to be postponed until next year because Covid-19 quarantine rules mean players would only return to their clubs two weeks before trial games begin for the 2022 season.
With Australia’s borders currently closed, anyone returning to the country from overseas would have to spend 14 days in government-managed quarantine.
Players must take a mandatory six-week rest break after quarantine, that would have impacted the new campaign by essentially wiping out pre-season.
But now, the competition has taken a massive hit with two of the tournament’s biggest teams pulling the plug just months before it kicks off in Britain.
The 16-team men’s World Cup gets underway on October 23 with the final at Old Trafford in Manchester on November 27.
Australia and New Zealand managed to suppress Covid while the rest of the world battled perpetual lockdowns… but now even the pariahs are being hit by the Delta variant thanks to abysmal jab rollouts
Australia and New Zealand were hailed as the ‘envy of the world’ after seemingly managing to suppress the virus and pursue a ‘zero Covid’ strategy.
In doing so the countries had to enforce some of the strictest border measures in the world, leaving a multi-billion dollar hole in their economies and the tourism industry in ruins.
But it allowed their populations to continue life largely as normal while the rest of the world lost their basic freedoms – with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and sporting events operating at full capacity.
However, the success of the zero Covid strategy could now be undermined by abysmal vaccine rollouts in both Australia and New Zealand.
Just 15 per cent of the adult population in Australia has been doubled-jabbed and a similarly low proportion are fully protected in New Zealand – compared to about 70 per cent in Britain.
The low vaccination rates have given the highly-infectious Delta variant – more than twice as virulent as the original Covid virus – the opportunity to spread with free reign, with cases rising fivefold in Australia in a month.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was today forced to say sorry for the sluggish rollout of the country’s vaccination programme.
‘I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year,’ he said. ‘But what’s more important is that we’re totally focused on ensuring that we’ve been turning this around.’
However, the nation’s Covid situation is still a far cry from levels seen elsewhere in the West, including the UK.
Figures compiled by Oxford University-backed researchers show 703 people out of every 1million are testing positive for the virus every day in the UK.
In contrast, the rate stands at just five in Australia. And it’s even lower in New Zealand, according to Our World in Data.
The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, is thought to behind the recent uptick in Australia. At the beginning of June, it was linked with just 19 per cent of cases, but this jumped to 90 per cent by July 12.
New Zealand has not published data on its virus sequencing, so it is unclear how prevalent the more infectious strain is in the country.
The sacrifices made by millions of Australians and New Zealanders – including not seeing family abroad for more than a year due to border closures – could be in vain if the countries do not get a grip on their crises.
In Britain, and most of Europe, ministers have constantly strived to keep borders open, even to their detriment.
Last spring the UK’s huge death toll was blamed on allowing thousands of travellers to return from Italy and Spain, where the virus was rife.
More recently, Boris Johnson was lambasted for his decision not to stop travel from India despite a devastating wave of the Delta variant crippling major hospitals there.
The UK went on to become the next epicentre for the highly infectious Delta variant.
Australia and New Zealand have also opted for strict city-wide lockdowns at the first sign of community transmission of the virus, even if there have only been a handful of cases.
In Britain, by contrast, there has been staunch opposition to lockdowns which has seen the government try much looser locally targeted curbs.
Australian team WAGs appear to breach rules for the sport’s Covid bubble as they share food between floors after some ‘couldn’t get water or milk’ in first 24 hours
By Sam McPhee for Daily Mail Australia
The partners and children of NRL stars relocated to Queensland have spent their first day in hotel isolation lying in the sun and sharing food across balconies in what appears to be a breach of rules for the sport’s coronavirus bubble.
The families touched down in the Gold Coast on Wednesday after being given special permission to leave Covid-hit Sydney and quarantine in a luxury resort on the Gold Coast for two weeks.
Pictures on Thursday show men and women staying inside the Novotel hotel in Surfers Paradise passing lollies to the rooms either side of them as well as to people on floors above and below.
Restrictions were increased on the near-500 Sydney-based family members as they arrived, with those staying now confined to remaining on their floors rather than mixing as was previously planned.
The women and children were believed to be divided into the same groups as their NRL player partners, who will be based in three hotels across south-eastern Queensland.
Those passing sweets to people on other floors appear to be breaching those rules, according to a source at Queensland Health.
Daily Mail Australia alerted Queensland Health, who said the matter should be investigated by Queensland Police and the NRL.
A source at the hotel told Daily Mail Australia the people shown in the photos are part of the NRL bubble.
There is no suggestion any of the other NRL family members staying at the hotel have broken the NRL’s bubble rules.
According to reports by the Daily Telegraph, there are doubts many partners will last the two weeks isolating after they were left without water and milk in their first 24 hours while a young mother wrongly had her baby formula delivered to a different floor.
Pictures on Thursday show men and women staying inside the Novotel hotel in Surfers Paradise as a part of the NRL’s bubble passing lollies to the rooms either side of them as well as to people on floors above and below.
Those passing sweets to people on other floors appear to be breaching those rules. A source at the hotel told Daily Mail Australia the people shown in the photos are part of the NRL bubble. There’s no suggestion the other people pictured have broken the bubble’s rules
Restrictions were increased on the near-500 Sydney-based family members as they arrived, with those staying now confined to remaining on their floors rather than mixing as was previously planned. There’s no suggestion the other people pictured have broken the bubble’s rules
A partner of one of the NRL stars lies in the sun in the Novotel Surfers Paradise ahead of linking up with the footy players in their respective bubbles. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging she broke bubble rules
Wests Tigers star James Roberts stands in the sun as he undergoes his two weeks of isolation before meeting up with his teammates in their bubble in Brisbane. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging Roberts broke bubble rules
The league was forced to relocate its 16 teams to three bubbles in Queensland last week to escape growing Covid outbreaks in NSW and Victoria, with separate hubs set up on the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast.
Close to 500 Sydney-based family members will spend the next 14 days at the Novotel hotel in Surfers Paradise before joining their NRL star partners in their respective hubs.
There are reportedly serious problems surfacing within the first 24 hours of the families isolating, with basics including water, milk and baby food not being supplied.
Initially there were supposed to be separate food halls for the families, but that has since changed with the increased restrictions.
The hotel is now being forced to deliver the same meals to each room, similar to hotel quarantine for returning travellers, meaning many partners and their children’s dietary requirements are not being met.
Close to 500 Sydney-based family members will spend the next 14 days at the Novotel hotel in Surfers Paradise before joining their NRL star partners in their respective hubs. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging she broke bubble rules
The families touched down in the Gold Coast on Wednesday after being given special permission to leave Covid-hit Sydney and quarantine in a luxury resort on the Gold Coast for two weeks. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging they have broken bubble rules
One partner of an NRL player was photographed lying in the sun on the first full day of isolation the families are spending before linking up in their respective bubbles. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging she broke bubble rules
Hotel management spoke to the families over the hotel speaker on Thursday morning, apologising on behalf of the NRL for the unforeseen changes to protocol and asking for their patience.
‘This is a message on behalf of the NRL,’ the worker said over the system, according to the Telegraph.
‘Dear NRL families, the past 24 hours have been challenging. Queensland Health changed restrictions overnight on short notice which require people to stay on their hotel level and avoid crossover from people on other levels.
‘This is creating significant logistical challenges and reconfiguration of the hotel set-up. We are currently working with Queensland Health to address the changes and create a better environment for all of you.
‘Firstly, we are working full-time to ensure deliveries of the urgent supplies you need, meeting your special dietary requirements and creating a more efficient way of being served your meals.
‘We understand how difficult the conditions have been since you have arrived but we are working on a plan to provide you with more comfort and more freedom.
‘Your wellbeing is our absolute priority and we will keep you updated as the situation is improved for you.’
Among those preparing to settle in to their new hotel at the Novotel Surfers Paradise was Jack De Belin’s partner Alyce Taylor (pictured). Daily Mail Australia is not alleging Ms Taylor broke bubble rules
Wives and girlfriends of footy stars have arrived in Queensland ahead of quarantining before joining their partners in their respective bubbles (pictured Tariq Sims’ wife Ashleigh and their daughter). Daily Mail Australia is not alleging Mrs Sims broke bubble rules
Jack de Belin’s partner Alyce Taylor along with Tariq Sims’ model wife Ashleigh were among the WAG arrivals on Wednesday morning as they were spotted on the tarmac carrying luggage with their children.
Benji Marshall and his wife Zoe touched down later on Wednesday afternoon with their newborn daughter Ever and son Fox.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs star opted to stay back in Sydney with his wife after the birth of their second child last month. The pair will have adjoining rooms on the top floor of the hotel away from the other families.
The league’s relocation to Queensland will cost upwards of $12million a month, and WAGs were only given clearance to fly in from Sydney after the NRL sent detailed applications for each individual.
The family members will stay on different levels of the Novotel hotel, defined by the regions of Sydney they have come from.
Families from Sydney’s south-west will be separated from families coming from the east and inner-west given the restrictions applied to certain local government areas.
The wives, girlfriends and children are not allowed to use the pool and there are three different dining halls for the three groups – which can only be used at different times.
Daily Mail Australia understands some of the families have removalists on standby in the likely event the competition is permanently moved to Queensland, facing two to three months in their new bubbles.
They are subject to Queensland Health’s Covid testing, meaning the state’s authorities will handle any positive cases rather than the NRL.
After completing their quarantine they will be able to join them in their teams’ NRL hub.
Dozens of other wives, girlfriends and their children arrived at the Novotel on Wednesday morning where they will spend the next 14 days ‘isolating’ rather than quarantining. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging they have broken bubble rules
Jack De Belin’s girlfriend Alyce Taylor arrives at Coolangatta airport with their two young children on Wednesday afternoon. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging Ms Taylor broke bubble rules
South Sydney Rabbitohs star Benji Marshall (left) and wife Zoe (right) arrived later on Wednesday afternoon. Marshall chose not to fly to Sydney with his teammates last week so he could be with his newborn daughter (pictured). Daily Mail Australia is not alleging the Marshalls broke bubble rules
The Marshalls and their two young kids will have adjoining rooms on the top floor of the hotel away from the other families. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging the Marshalls broke bubble rules
The wives, girlfriends and children will spend two weeks at the Novotel Surfers Paradise before linking up with their partners at their respective bubbles in Queensland
Families from Sydney’s south-west will be separated from families coming from the east and inner-west given the restrictions applied to certain local government areas. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging she broke bubble rules
The 500-odd group of women and children only found out they would be joining their partners on Monday night after NRL CEO Andrew Abdo sent a letter confirming the news.
‘Thank you for your patience over the last few days,’ Abdo wrote in the letter, obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘I’m delighted to inform you that as promised, we will be able to reunite you with your family in Queensland soon. The Queensland Government has this evening approved our application to relocate Sydney based families to the Gold Coast.
‘When you arrive on the Gold Coast, you will commence 14 days of quarantine at an NRL-managed Family Hub in Surfers Paradise before being reunited with your partners at club hotels. The majority of families will be free to move around the resort and make use of the facilities while you are in quarantine.
‘Families who are based in the three Local Government Areas, which are currently under NSW Public Health orders not to leave, will also be permitted to travel. As I explained to you on a call earlier this evening, you will be located in a separate section of the hotel to minimise risk to the broader group.
‘I want to thank you all for the patience you have shown while our team has worked closely with Queensland and NSW Governments to have the necessary exemptions approved.
‘We promised all players and families that you would be reunited and we are pleased that we are now delivering on that promise.
‘We have a responsibility to ensure we keep the Queensland community safe and healthy. My team will be in touch with you directly over the next 24 hours to ensure you clearly understand the conditions and protocols we must comply with. Thank you for making yourself available so promptly today for COVID-19 testing.
‘The sacrifices you are making to keep the competition going is not lost on the Australian Rugby League Commision, or myself. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have further questions.
‘We will do all we can to make this relocation as comfortable as possible for you and your children and we will be arranging some additional support for you during the 14 days.’
The wives, girlfriends and children are not allowed to use the pool and there are three different dining halls for the three groups – which can only be used at different times. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging they have broken bubble rules
Some of the families have removalists on standby in case the competition is permanently moved to Queensland, facing two to three months in their new bubbles. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging they have broken bubble rules
The Warriors, Eels, Rabbitohs, Raiders and Bulldogs are all based at the Mercure Hotel on the Gold Coast.
The Panthers, Roosters, Knights and Sea Eagles are staying at the Novotel Twin Waters on the Sunshine Coast.
Brisbane’s Novotel Southbank is hosting the Sharks, Dragons and Tigers.
The NRL originally planned to fly the families up over the weekend, only for Queensland Government officials to request further details before granting exemptions.
That prompted several nervous days for anxious players and their partners, as well as scrambling behind the scenes by NRL and club staff.
The partner of an NRL star and their three children touch down on the Gold Coast on Wednesday afternoon. Daily Mail Australia is not alleging they have broken bubble rules
Source: Daily Mail UK