Backlash growing over Rugby League World Cup withdrawals

31 Jul 21, 1:37PM 0 Comments

Written by Keith Whitelock

Photo by Dan Himbrechts (AAP)

With a decision on the path forward for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup expected next week, many alternative governing bodies and fans alike are starting to openly question the reasons given by Australia and New Zealand for their sudden withdrawal.

Misinformation is being rapidly clarified by tournament organisers around funding and safety protocols, leaving many fans to believe that the ARLC and NZRL in fact jumped the gun and failed to adequately consult players on their thoughts about travelling to England to represent their countries.

Each day brings new information to light, further frustrating long-suffering fans of international rugby league. Rugby league is a sport that has been chronically handicapped by self-interest as the people running the game, primarily at a club level are thought to continuously lobby in the shadows to ensure their vested interests are protected.

One example of this is the vehement opposition that was shown towards the 2018 test match between England and New Zealand in Denver, Colorado. NRL clubs lobbied fiercely to prevent this game from going ahead, putting the fixture in extreme doubt even days leading up to the event and ultimately having an oversized impact on its success or lack thereof.

Perhaps sensing the growing backlash from alternative governing bodies and fans alike, the ARLC seemed to have recognised the need to further justify the decision of Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawal. The expert biosecurity report commissioned by the ARLC was partly published by News Ltd whilst Fairfax published a well-written article by Roy Masters after interviewing veteran politician Peter Beattie, one of Australia’s representatives on the IRL Board. “The Tokyo Olympics were postponed,” Beattie was reported as saying to Masters, ignoring the reality that the Olympics are currently being held at the time of writing this article.

In addition to the above, all 16 NRL club CEO’s issued a joint statement backing the withdrawal. This is possibly the most intriguing aspect of Friday’s media blitz. Is this perhaps an acknowledgement that clubs now realise fans see through the clubs lobbying after decades of opaque dealings?

“We all want to see a strong, safe and successful Rugby League World Cup,” Canberra Raiders CEO 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.

This quote is hard to argue against. It’s logical and articulate however it’s also dangerous as it somewhat implies that fans and players who believe Australia and New Zealand should be going to the World Cup in 2021 do not want to see a “safe and successful” World Cup, which is misleading at best and manipulative at worst.

Masters was right to point out that the ARLC can be ousted with a combined vote of all the clubs, particular when you factor in that all 16 club CEO’s signed the joint statement.

In a press release on Thursday, the board of the European Rugby League we’re scathing of the decision by Australia and New Zealand. Expressing solidarity with World Cup organisers, the statement further joined the chorus of voices not accepting the reasons put forward behind the withdrawal, stating “we do not accept the stated reason offered by them as being either well informed or based on factual reality,”

“As two senior nations with direct representation on the IRL Board, it is the belief of the ERL that Australia and New Zealand have acted in a manner that does not match the responsibility they hold, and their withdrawal has been done in an insular and selfish manner and is a grave concern. Their lack of commitment and vision to international development has enormous ramifications for the whole game over the next decade.” ERL stated.

Australian Indigenous and New Zealand Maori player voices are growing louder by the day as they seek representation of their culture at the World Cup. The ARLC and NZRL now find themselves in a difficult position, as the pool of NRL players not eligible for other teams outside the Kangaroos and Kiwis grow smaller and smaller, rendering their withdrawal significantly less consequential.

There are simply far too many independent variables still floating about for any confident predictions to be made on how this situation pans out. It is however safe to say that the ARLC and NZRL probably weren’t expecting this level of backlash from players, the stakeholders their withdrawal was supposedly designed to protect.

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