The long road to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup is set to begin next month, with Latvia tangling with Spain in a knock-out game in Riga on May 9.
The final place in this year’s European C tournament is on offer to the winners. That tournament will make up part of the qualifying process for 2017.
Three more European sides will join the seven already announced as seeds for the finals, together with further qualifiers from four other continents to make up the 14 participating nations in 2017.
“The fact that the road to RLWC2017 starts with Latvia hosting Spain absolutely captures, for me, the advances that the game is making on an international level,” Rugby League International Federation CEO David Collier said.
“These nations, like many others, have been captivated by rugby league and also the opportunity to qualify for a World Cup, having reached the required standards on and off the field to earn a place in this qualifying stage.
“The RLIF and the WC Organising Committee have built upon the success of RLWC2013 and the commencement of the qualification programme across the globe is a really significant milestone for the sport.”
Vilmars Sokolovs, president of the Latvian RL Federation, is well aware of the extra significance of the clash with the Spaniards.
“We understand that it is not just a regular international game, it is a first step for RLWC 2017 and for us, as a developing country, to open the qualifying process hosting a game against Spain is a great responsibility,” he said.
“We believe that all our players, coaches, officials, volunteers and supporters’ efforts will allow us to organize this event according the highest standards and it will helps us develop the game in Latvia and neighbouring countries.
“We plan to issue limited edition merchandise on-line worldwide just before the game and would like to use this extraordinary event for raising funds for development in schools in Latvia and Spain.”
Salome Sansano, president of the Asociacion Espanola de RL, is very proud that his nation will be helping to kickstart the qualifying process for the next World Cup.
“The news that Spain will participate in the first game of the World Cup was received with great enthusiasm in our country,” he said.
“This would have been unthinkable when we started our project two years ago but gradually hard work and committed support has brought us here.
“Rugby league has become part of our lifestyle; the Spanish players will give everything they have to achieve this dream and also help to increase awareness of the sport in our country and stimulate the creation of new teams.”