World Cup 2021 Q&A: Chief exec Jon Dutton on schedule, tickets, possible delays and coronavirus impact

Rugby League World Cup 2021 chief executive Jon Dutton answered questions surrounding the tournament in light of the current coronavirus lockdown.

Organisers published a revised timeline for announcements, putting back the unveiling of the World Cup schedule, which had been due imminently.

When will fixture dates and venues be known?

The schedule was due to be unveiled in April, however due to the current uncertainty of global events, this will be delayed. No exact date has been decided, but it will be between now and September.

JD: “We were ready to go with announcing the schedule. We have been talking to broadcasters about kickoff times, matching up games and venues. Any changes to the schedule will be dictated by other people, not us.”

Have you considered postponing the tournament?

JD: “No. It’s a very fluid situation, and we’ve seen the Olympics and Euro 2020 moved and there are of course uncertainties about our domestic leagues, both Super League and NRL.

“We have time on our side, we’ve done a lot of planning, and there may be environmental factors that affect us in future but at the moment, it is business as usual.”

Are there fears over how the coronavirus lockdown and subsequent suspension and likely delay to either or both the 2020 and 2021 seasons will impact the tournament?

JD: “There are things that may impact us. For example, if the start of the domestic season in 2021 in both the UK and Australia is delayed, and the subsequent availability of athletes. The World Cup has to be played at that time of the year (October/November), so any delay to the season will clearly impact. We have Premier League and Championship football grounds and many other stadia that there are considerations about. We will have to keep a watching brief over all these factors.

“We’d have to work through with venues, what would be feasible in the remaining weeks in 2021. Clearly there is player welfare to consider too and a discussion with the players’ union about athletes having an appropriate break.

“As many as two thirds of the athletes for the men’s tournament will come from the NRL, so it’s really important that we take our time to understand their situation and what plans are in place. Clearly we can’t do that at this moment in time until there’s more certainty over 2020.

“But time is on our side. We’re still 20 months away from the start of the World Cup.”

Has moving it back to 2022 been considered?

JD: “There’s been no consideration of delaying to 2022. There’s the factor of additional cost. If we stopped and mothballed the tournament and started up again in 12 months, there would be a cost burden. At this point in time, I don’t think it’s feasible that the event can be moved back 12 months.”

How will the Olympics and football European Championships being moved to 2021 affect the goals of RLWC2021?

JD: “As a true celebration of sport in 2021, we believe that it could work in our favour. The events in Tokyo spring boarding to the men’s Euro 2020 final at Wembley and there’s still a gap before the Rugby League World Cup. We don’t believe it will have an impact on ticket sales; it may have an impact on the commercial landscape and with broadcasters but it’s too early to say. We see it more in our favour than as a threat.

“We can’t guarantee that we will reach the forecast we had a few weeks ago. If you look from all the different perspectives, like sponsorship and disposable income for ticket sales, but everyone else is in the same situation.

“That’s why from a ticketing perspective we need to make them affordable and accessible. We’re having some really interesting commercial conversations, and although some particularly in the travel space have stopped, people are now wanting to speak to us about what might be possible. It’s too early to say – but we remain optimistic about delivering the tournament and achieving our targets.”

When will tickets go on sale?

In September, the tournament will go on pre-sale to two groups – the rugby league family and corporate partners in group one and Host cities and venues, those residents within host cities and on venue databases in group two. This small window of opportunity will allow these set groups to purchase tickets before anyone else. Fans are encouraged to sign up via to ensure they are the first to receive news on tickets and timings.

With one year to go on 23 October 2020, for the first time in the tournament’s history, a public ballot will open. Anyone will be able to request tickets for as many individual fixtures as they wish until 27 November 2020.

December 2020 will see fans receive the results of the public ballot and tickets will then go on general sale in early 2021.

They had originally been scheduled to start ticket sales in July, though the delay to the schedule announcement put paid to that.

If the Ashes series this year doesn’t go ahead, could that harm the World Cup?

If it doesn’t go ahead it will be a real blow. We hope to use that as a marketing tool to show what a World Cup could truly be about, nation against nation. We will wait patiently for news from the RFL and ARLC about the Ashes tour and whether it goes ahead or not.

Could England host the 2025 World Cup as well, following the collapse of the USA bid?

JD: “2025 is probably too early for another tournament here. We are planning to run the 2021 tournament, and we are a special vehicle that exists for one purpose, and at the end of the World Cup we disappear – hoping to leave a legacy for the UK and international rugby league.

“Do I see England hosting the World Cup in 2025? Absolutely not. But this is such a fluid situation, we’ll have to see what happens.”

On June 10, which marks 500 days until the kick-off of the tournament, World Cup organisers will reveal the host cities for each participating team.

They will also reveal the brand for the tournament, with one single logo representing all three tournaments. It will celebrate inclusivity, with equal participation fees and prize money across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events.

A volunteers programme was recently rolled out, with more than 5000 volunteers signed up, around 25% of which are new to volunteering.

Dutton added: “Whatever the new normal looks like, people will want something to look forward to – and I maintain that this tournament will be a great celebration of rugby league for the UK.”

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