Rugby league’s World Cup appears in serious doubt after all 16 NRL clubs backed Australia and New Zealand withdrawing and indicating they did not want their players to feature.
In a lengthy statement issued by all clubs on Friday, they cited safety and welfare concerns for their players as their chief issues with the tournament going ahead in Britain in October.
The clubs again called for the competition to be postponed until 2022, hopeful that COVID-19 conditions and quarantine arrangements will have improved by then.
It comes after several club CEOs met World Cup boss Jon Dutton on Thursday, with Dutton admitting afterwards the tournament was only a 50-50 chance of going ahead.
“We all want to see a strong, safe and successful Rugby League World Cup,” Canberra CEO Don Furner said.
“It’s clear that cannot be achieved in 2021, but we are in strong support for the tournament to be held in 2022.
“We want the players to come home healthy.
“There are two massive challenges here. The UK infection rate is increasing, with the two countries being at different stages of vaccination levels and approach to dealing with the virus.
“Secondly, there are several unknowns in terms of the process and protocols for players who may get exposed to COVID-19 locations and how that may disrupt the tournament.”
On Thursday, World Cup organisers had planned to send an anonymous survey to all players to gauge their feelings about the tournament.
Previous questionaries had shown about 75 per cent of players wanted to participate, with several big-name stars coming out this week and voicing their support.
But the clubs’ position could stop any such chance of them playing.
Ordinarily, clubs are bound to release players for representative duties as part of their licence agreement with the NRL.
However, that will not be enforced this World Cup after the ARL Commission’s decision to pull the Kangaroos from the tournament.
It meant clubs would have the power to tell their players they did not want them to participate.
Friday’s statement didn’t explicitly state players would not be allowed to feature in the tournament, but gave every indication clubs would not support them going over.
“The NRL and its clubs have gone to great lengths and invested heavily to ensure our players remain healthy and the competition continues,” Souths CEO Blake Solly said.
“These measures have been taken with an infection rate in Australia that is minimal when compared to the rate in the UK.
“This rate of infection is far too high for us to be confident the players will not contract COVID-19 during the World Cup in the UK.”
Meanwhile Dutton confirmed this week that postponement to 2022 was “not an easy option”, with cancellation believed to be a far more likely scenario.
The World Cup is scheduled to be played across Britain from October 23-November 27.