What next for the World Cup after the cancellation of France 2025

James Gordon
World Cup trophies SWpix

Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix

It’s barely six months since the last World Cup, and we’re already hitting crisis point in the next World Cup cycle.

The pandemic will of course take part of the blame for the current situation, especially the fact it knocked the 2021 edition back a year, but the reality is that two hosts have now tried and failed to put something together for 2025.

The 2025 World Cup won’t be in North America or France – but will it be held anywhere at all?

A Southern Hemisphere World Cup?

In hindsight, to hold two World Cups within three years (albeit should have been four) in the northern hemisphere in the current context of international rugby league was ambitious if not absurd.

Maybe the learnings from this process are that World Cups should alternate either side of the equator for the forseeable future. France could have been lined up for 2029, though it remains to be seen just how scarred they will be from this process.

It remains to be seen just how much willing there is from Australia to host a World Cup again, just eight years after the last in the country.

A dream alternative could be one across the Pacific nations, that could take in Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa – though the infrastructure simply doesn’t exist to make that a reality.

But as the BBC’s rugby league correspondent Dave Woods says: “Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea don’t have the infrastructure to stage an event like this. But they do have huge supporter bases living in both Australia and New Zealand that would help fill stadiums given the emerging success in recent years of all those countries’ rugby league sides.

“A shared hosting of the tournament by those two rugby league super powers would seem the likeliest option.”

Could England and the RFL step up to save the day?

Having already hosted two World Cups in the last 11 years, having a third in 13 might seem a bit much.

But given the precarious state of the international game in the northern hemisphere, perhaps the RFL and IMG might sense an opportunity to pull something together.

Clearly it couldn’t be as ambitious or organised as the 2021 World Cup, but maybe entire groups of games could be staged at one or two nearby venues – let’s say Headingley and Huddersfield, Warrington and St Helens plus the two Hull grounds, with a sprinkling of one-off matches held elsewhere, to minimise the logistics and enable teams to be trained and based locally within Super League infrastructure.

It could provide an opportunity for rugby league venues to really make some money from supporting the international game.

The bigger Super League clubs would have to drive it as a serious commercial venture though, with support from the International Rugby League and IMG.

However, the early reports are that the RFL and England have distanced themselves from hosting in 2025.

Postpone for a year and re-jig the calendar?

After the disastrous World Cup in 2000, we had to wait eight years for the next one in 2008, which was then followed by one five years later in 2013 and one four years later in 2017.

The next edition was ultimately five years later in 2022, and maybe the reality is that every four years is too ambitious for rugby league.

A postponement to 2026 and retain the four year gap (meaning next one would be in 2030), or even postponing for a further year to 2027 and create a five-year cycle that would continue in 2032.

Though there are some who argue that rugby league needs more frequent World Cups, rather than making them more distant.

The benefit of a postponement means any host nation would get an extra year to prepare.

No 2025 World Cup at all?

We saw first hand just how much work went in to organising the 2021 World Cup in England, which already has significant infrastructure in place in terms of hosting major events and regular elite rugby league matches.

The postponement of a year put major strain on the event, and that was with a year extra to plan.

We are barely two years away from when the first ball would be kicked in 2025 – so it seems virtually impossible to think we could find a replacement host and get everything organised within that two year window, especially given the logistics and need for promotion.

Great Britain legend Garry Schofield said in his League Express column: “The problem is getting another host to step in at short notice… we could be faced with no tournament at all, which would be a huge setback. What happened to alternating with the Northern Hemisphere?”

No World Cup at all would then simply lead to the focus moving to the 2029 World Cup – though how that would impact the already ongoing qualifying process remains to be seen.

What the International Rugby League federation has said

In a statement, the IRL said: “Despite our focus having been on France, we will now accelerate our consideration of other contingency options.

“The board meets face to face in July and we will then be able to determine together our next steps forward and consider the other bids we have received for not only 2025, but 2029, 2033 and World Cup 9s events in the future.

“The Rugby League World Cup in France in 2025 was always an ambitious project given the unprecedented short lead in time due to the pandemic, however it had the advantage of following and leveraging off the widely acknowledged RLWC2021 success.”

A board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, after which IRL are planning to hold a press conference to outline their next steps.

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