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Delayed NRL season set to affect 2021 World Cup

The potential cancellation of th end-of-year Kangaroo tour would be a massive setback but World Cup organisers believe their tournament remains on track to fulfil its ambitious targets if the 2021 NRL and Super League seasons proceed as scheduled.

RLWC2021 CEO Jon Dutton confirmed during an international teleconference with journalists that the dates and venues for matches had been finalised but plans to announce ticketing details have been delayed due to uncertainty over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dutton said he was still confident of meeting the stated goal of selling 750,000 tickets for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cup events but prices may be revised as the economic downturn caused by the global health crisis is expected to leave fans with less money to spend.

The Kangaroo tour, including a three-Test series against England, at the end of the year was set to be a significant promotion for the World Cup but it is now in severe doubt after the Telstra Premiership was suspended as NRL officials consider the possibility of a range of scenarios for their season which could result in a December grand final.

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“If it doesn’t go ahead it will be a real blow,” Dutton said. “We hoped to use that as a marketing tool to help show people what the World Cup will truly be but we will wait patiently for news from the RFL and ARLC about the Ashes tour and whether it goes ahead or not.”

Of greater concern to World Cup organisers is the knock-on effect a delayed finish to this year’s NRL and Super League competitions could have if the 2021 season starts and ends later, with the tournament due to begin at St James Park on October 23, 2021.

“The Rugby League World Cup has to really be played at that particular time of the year that we have in October and November so any delay to the start of the 2021 season will clearly have an impact,” Dutton said.

“We estimate that perhaps as many as two-thirds of the men’s athletes will come from the NRL competition so it will be very important in coming weeks that we take the time to understand the situation and what plan will be put in place, particularly for the 2021 season.

“We have started some very early conversations to map out what would be feasible in the remaining weeks that we have in 2021.

“Clearly there is player welfare to consider and the discussion with the player’s union about athletes having an appropriate break so that is why it is important that there is no major disruption to the 2021 season.”

Major sporting events around the world are in a similar position and the availability of RLWC2021 venues such as St James Park, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Old Trafford, Elland Road and Anfield could be affected by changes to the scheduling of the English Premier League season.

The World Cup was set to be the only major sporting event in England in 2021 but the European Football Championships [Euros] have been deferred for 12 months, while the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo will now take place next year.

“We don’t believe that will have an impact on ticket sales,” Dutton said. “It may have an impact on the commercial landscape, it may have an impact on broadcast but at this point in time we see it as being more in our favour rather than a threat.

“It’s too early to say but we remain optimistic about delivering the tournament and meeting the targets we set ourselves.

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“There may be environmental factors that affect us in the future but for the time being it is business as usual given the unprecedented circumstances.”

The team bases for the 21 nations competing in the three tournaments will be announced on June 10, while pre-sale of tickets will begin in September.

World Cup officials announced 20,021 free tickets would be offered to those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors critical to the COVID-19 response.