NEXT year’s rugby league World Cup can’t be moved but also could not be run at the same level without NRL players, its CEO Jon Dutton says.
Speaking in a digital media conference to announced changes to this year’s planning in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dutton also announced that 20,022 tickets would be given away to National Health Service workers and added it was possible but unlikely some of the tournament’s government funding could be requisitioned to deal with the emergency.
There is no information yet on when the suspended NRL and Super League may resume although Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys said on Thursday the best case scenario would be early July and the worst September.
In either case, this year’s international season would be devoid of NRL players and the 2021 NRL season would start late, placing pressure on the World Cup which is due to start on October 23.
“There are things that might impact us that we don’t quite yet know – for example the start of the domestic 2021 season in both the UK and in Australia and the availability of athletes,” Dutton said.
“The Rugby League World Cup has to really be played at that particular time of year in October and November.
“Any delay to the start of the 2021 season will clearly impact. We have Premier League football grounds, we have Championship football grounds, we have many stadia across the 21 venues that there are considerations about.
“We haven’t been in touch directly with the NRL. It’s not just about Australia, it’s about the athletes across many nations. We estimate as many as two-thirds of the men’s athletes will come from the NRL.”
On moving to 2022, he said: “The challenges around that are the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and also the additional cost it would take.
“I don’t believe it is feasible that the event would move back by 12 months.”
But when it was suggested the men’s tournament could go on without NRL players if necessary, Dutton answered: “That’s a really tough question – I think probably not, certainly to the scale that the tournament is.
“Particularly from the men’s perspective, I would estimate the athletes would be about two thirds of the overall playing population (from the NRL).
“That’s something we will have to look at but of course we want the very, very best athletes. We want to make super heroes of the athletes, whether people know them right now or not.”
Dutton was asked if eventual emergency funding for rugby league in Britain – which has asked for government assistance could be taken by the government out of his budget.
“Could they? Yes. I think that’s unlikely. We’ve now allocated and spent 40 per cent of the capital funding. We have been speaking on a regular basis to Sport England
“I guess in these unprecedented circumstances, we can’t rule anything out.
“If we have to cut our cloth accordingly in a new world, then we will do that.”
The Olympics, Paralympics and European soccer championships will now crowd a year the RLWC previously had to itself. Dutton said this could be a positive, making the year “a celebration of sport”.
The digital media conference was punctuated by the national round of applause for workers at Britain’s National Health Service who are fighting the Coronavirus.
“We are making 20,021 tickets freely available to NHS staff and key workers caring for and keeping the nation moving,” said Dutton.
“This is our small token of our appreciation for their incredible efforts. The tickets are to say thank you from the Rugby League World Cup and give something to look forward to for those who are working so hard.”
The cancellation of the 2020 Kangaroo Tour, Dutton said, would be “a real blow. We hoped to use that as a marketing tool to show people what the World Cup will truly be. We will wait patiently for news.”
The CEO admitted he “can’t guarantee” the tournament would meet its financial targets in the wake of the health crisis but was still aiming for 750,000 seats filled. He said prospective sponsors were still showing interest.
Dutton said that within 48 hours of asking for 2021 volunteers last October, 5000 had applied.
Each of these volunteers had been put in contact with local authorities to help in the fight against the pandemic.
Dutton conceded the BBC’s undertaking to cover every match may be impacted by the deferment of the Olympics.
The release of the match schedule has been deferred from April until July “at the earliest”. Dutton said eight per cent of RLWC’s budget had been spent (as opposed to spent and allocated).
Tickets will now go on sale in September, later than planned Dutton said tickets would be as cheap as £2.21 for children to some matches.
“We believe 92 per cent of the tickets will be sold here in the UK,” he said.