Players from the southern hemisphere are still eager to play in the World Cup this autumn, according to tournament chief executive Jon Dutton.
With 100 days to go until the World Cup in England, tournament organisers have confirmed the tournament will go ahead as planned despite international travel and quarantine restrictions for players in Australia and New Zealand.
Half of the 16 men’s teams will come from the southern hemisphere and the World Cup will pay for charter flights to bring the 400-500 players and staff from Down Under.
Dutton says the tournament organisers have been in regular contact with the Rugby League Players Association, and insists players are still keen to feature in the World Cup.
Dutton said: “Before the pandemic, we set up a player working group with athlete representation across the three tournaments and across the world. We have been meeting with Clint Newton and his team at the RLPA on a regular basis. I would describe our relationship as extremely positive.
“Clint and his team have raised a number of concerns, and we’ve been working together over the past few months to address those.
“We’ve also additionally surveyed the players and we receive positive feedback and we know the players want to play in this tournament.
“And of course, there were a number of concerns. I think it’s important to recognise the quite radical difference in approach of pandemic here in the UK, and in Australia and New Zealand. There’s more work to do but from a player’s union perspective, we will continue those conversations and they’ve been incredibly helpful to us.”
World Cup organisers remain confident that holders Australia will be in England to defend their trophy this autumn.
Australia’s NRL clubs are concerned over travel and quarantine restrictions caused by the pandemic – but Dutton is confident all 21 nations will be at the tournament.
He said: “There is still work to do. There has been lots of speculation about the ARLC and Australia’s participation.
“We are very confident that Australia will participate. We are very confident that they will join the other 20 competing nations.
“We acknowledge that there are challenges ahead. I have been speaking to Andrew Abdo, the chief executive of the NRL, on a regular basis. We have met with Peter V’landys, we have been meeting with the commissioners on the ARLC.
“What we have to recognise is the relocation of the NRL competition to Queensland, and the relocation of two of the three origin games has presented a number of challenges domestically for them to contend with. We are very respectful of that we will continue to work with them but we wouldn’t be making this announcement today if we didn’t have the confidence that those nations would arrive in England and compete in the tournament.”