Talks are underway over Indigenous and Maori teams competing at the World Cup, tournament chief executive Jon Dutton has confirmed.
Dutton told a press conference on Thursday that the chances of the tournament going ahead in England this autumn are 50-50 following the withdrawals of Australia and New Zealand.
World Cup organisers have held two emergency board meetings since the announcement just over a week ago, and Dutton says he does not expect the Kangaroos and Kiwis to make a U-turn on their decision.
Dutton says the plan is to stick with 16 teams in the men’s competition, which would mean finding two more teams to fill the void left by Australia and New Zealand.
The USA and Serbia have made their interest known to participate after missing out in the qualifying stages, but Dutton would be open to teams representing the Indigenous All Stars and New Zealand Maoris to feature in the tournament.
“We’ve certainly been in communication with the Indigenous and Maori representatives,” Dutton said. “We’re quite excited by those propositions.
“We need to undertake some due diligence because obviously they are not national teams, they are not teams that regularly exist at the moment but certainly that communication and consultation is already underway.
“They have to be sanctioned and that is why this is very much a decision for the International Rugby League. I think a precedent has been set, I think it was back in 2000 when a Maori team played in a World Cup, albeit under completely different circumstances.
“We want to see the best players in the world play in the tournament and if there is a way to continue to do that in 2021, we will investigate every possibility.”
NRL stars Josh Addo-Carr and Andrew Fifita have thrown their support behind having an Indigenous team in the World Cup, while St Helens forward Joel Thompson also thinks it would be a good idea.
Thompson tweeted: “Let’s make it happen. Get the Indigenous/Maori sides into the World Cup.
“Strict protocols can make it safe for the players in the UK. Rugby league needs to keep moving forward through the pandemic. We’re seeing this with most sports across the world.”
Let’s make it happen. Get the Indigenous / Maori sides into the World Cup.
Strict protocols can make it safe for the players in the UK. Rugby League needs to keep moving forward through the pandemic. We’re seeing this with most sports across the world.
— Joel Thompson (@joel_thompson12) July 28, 2021
Dutton said that “no one has an appetite for a postponement” and the RLWC2021 will cover the costs for charted flights to bring more than 400 players and officials from Australia and also the cost of quarantine on their return following the tournament.