Sheffield left counting the cost of Rugby League World Cup postponement as Australians and Kiwis come under fire

Sheffield and other host cities will lose out financially after the Rugby League World Cup was postponed until 2022, it has been claimed.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 4:40 pm

The Australian and New Zealand teams have come under fire after their decision to pull out of the tournament led to it being pushed back by a year.

Former sports minister Richard Caborn criticised their decision not to take part this year and said there would be a cost to the host cities and to the sport in the UK as a whole from the event, which was due to kick off in October, having to be rescheduled at such short notice.

“Tickets have gone out and people have started putting the organisation in place, so there will be a cost,” he said.

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The 2021 Rugby League World Cup has been postponed to 2022 (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

"Rugby league isn’t a rich sport and I’m hoping the Government will look upon it as something it might be able to help with because this has happened through no fault of rugby league in the UK. It’s definitely down to the Australians and New Zealand.”

England were due to play one of their matches at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground, and the EIS was due to host the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup.

Australia and New Zealand pulled out of the tournament a fortnight ago, citing safety fears amid the coronavirus pandemic.

These are the Rugby League World Cup 2021 matches which were due to take place in Sheffield this autumn

Organisers initially vowed to press ahead with the tournament this autumn without two of the big three but were forced to acknowledge defeat as all 16 NRL clubs backed the boycott.

Mr Caborn told how he had to intervene as sports minister in 2001 when Australia had threaten to withdraw from that year's tournament due to safety concerns over terrorism.

“We were able to convince them to play then after offering them added security, and I think we could have offered them the security and safety they required this time, as we have done for other nations like the Indian cricket team.

“It’s very disappointing and I think the Australians and New Zealand ought to reflect on what their fellow country people are doing in the world of sport, with a very successful Olympics taking place in Tokyo, and ask themselves whether they’ve acted in a reasonable way, which I don’t think they have.

“It’s particularly disappointing that it’s happened this year because for the first time we were due to have women’s rugby and wheelchair rugby as well, and it feels like a great opportunity missed.”

Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton said he and fellow organisers were ‘bitterly disappointed’, having worked ‘tirelessly’ to put the tournament into ‘a quite remarkable position’.

“Over the weekend, into Monday, it became apparent that we couldn’t continue. It wouldn’t have been a world-class tournament and it would have been irresponsible to carry on,” he added.

“Postponement was never an easy option. It’s fair to say that we did come close to a cancellation and ultimately I guess the least-worst option was to postpone.”

Mr Dutton added that he did not expect to have to ask the Government for more money due to higher-than-expected commercial income.

The tournament is likely to start earlier in 2022 to avoid a clash with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar which starts on November 21, and Mr Dutton says he hopes to re-publish the schedule before Christmas.

Councillor Alison Teal, executive member for parks, wellbeing and leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: “Throughout the pandemic Rugby League World Cup organisers have worked extremely hard and faced many challenges in trying to stage the tournament this year, and we therefore understand and support the decision to postpone until 2022. This gives us another year to plan, recover from the pandemic, create excitement and build on the lasting legacy that the event will bring to Sheffield.

“A delay until 2022 means that we can still play our part, making sporting history as hosts of the biggest and best tournament Rugby League has ever seen. We'll continue working closely with our partners and look forward to celebrating the tournament, welcoming teams and fans to Sheffield next year, and to progressing the many opportunities it brings to grow rugby league in the city.”