Australia and New Zealand have both pulled out of competing at the Rugby League World Cup 2021 (RLWC2021), which is set to take place in England this autumn.
Both nations have cited player safety and welfare concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic as reasons for their decision, as well as extended quarantine periods upon arrival and return.
The news comes as coronavirus case numbers rise in the UK as the country removed lockdown restrictions. In an joint-statement with the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARRLC, Greg Peters, CEO, New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) said this made it ‘simply too unsafe’ to take part.
"The safety and wellbeing of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction,” he said.
"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia, and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.
"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over."
ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys added: "Not participating in this year's World Cup is not a decision the commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority.
"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.
"We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate."
The decision has sparked disappointment and anger from some in the UK, with RFL Chair Simon Johnson describing the decision as ‘selfish, parochial and cowardly’ during a BBC Radio 4 interview reacting to the news.
In a brief social media statement, RLWC2021 organisers said: “RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League.
“RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward.
“A further statement will be made in due course.”
The news comes a week after RLWC2021 organisers confimed that the event would take place in its scheduled slot across October and November.