nternational Rugby League chair Troy Grant has strongly criticised the decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out of the World Cup in England and says some of their players are now considering switching allegiances to enable them to take part in the tournament.
Anger is mounting over the decision, which Australia and New Zealand says has been made because of the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK which has made it “simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over”.
Grant, who says he finds it difficult to find the words that adequately describe his disappointment, will liaise with World Cup organisers to decide the next step.
“My job from here is to understand the local organising committee’s and UK government’s attitude towards continuing with the RLWC without Australia and New Zealand, if that is a viable option, or consider other options available to us,” Grant said.
“The next week will be critical but despite whatever happens my job as IRL chair is to pick up the pieces of international rugby league’s tarnished reputation.”
Grant says he remains in contact with the Australian Players Association (RLPA) and believes players such as Kangaroos full-back James Tedesco could be tempted to switch his allegiance back to Italy, for whom he played in the 2017 World Cup.
“I have been in regular communication with the RLPA and a number of international players and coaches who have been satisfied with the World Cup’s bio-security arrangements and expressed a clear determination to travel to England and proudly represent their nations,” the Australian said.
“They have expressed to me that they feel their own personal choice to participate or not in the World Cup has been taken from them.
“The RLPA have again committed to continue to work with IRL and the Local Organising Committee towards a 2021 tournament including Australian and New Zealand players who have dual eligibility and who are now keen to play for other nations.”
Organisers are frantically trying to work out their next step after being caught on the hop by the decision, which came just seven days after it was announced the tournament would go ahead as planned.
The PA news agency understands that tournament officials were given just four minutes’ notice of the announcement from Australia and New Zealand, who claimed it is “simply too unsafe” to travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That provoked an angry response from Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson, who told PA: “The World Cup organisers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly.
“To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this. This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.”