The International Rugby League (IRL) Board had asked the membership to inform them if they would be interested in participating in the women’s, wheelchair and youth competitions at the IRL World Cup in France in 2025. At its meeting this week, the Board recorded that a total of 84 expressions of interest have been received.
The IRL Rugby League World Cup, embodying its “sport for all” motif, will feature four competitions with 16 teams competing in each. The qualification process for the men’s competition has already begun with the European Championship D competition, which was held in Turkey last year, and will continue through 2022, in Colombia and Ghana, 2023, and possibly into 2024 (depending on results from RLWC2021 later this year).
All members were invited to express their interest in participating in the three remaining competitions (with observer members eligible only for the wheelchair event) and positive responses were received from 31 nations for the women’s competition (compared to 16 for England 2021), 24 for the wheelchair (compared to 10) and 29 for the youth competition.
The qualification process for the women’s competition will be designed to qualify three Americas countries, six from each of Asia Pacific and Europe and one from Middle East Africa. The eight nations competing at RLWC2021 will automatically qualify (subject to meeting certain development guidelines designed to boost the growth of women’s rugby league).
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Julia Lee, Chair of the IRL Women and Girl’s Advisory Group (WGAG) commented, “This is further proof of the march of women’s sport and rugby league in particular. The level and spread of interest is remarkable. Each expression of interest has come from a member with an existing women’s programme in place. With the development plans and qualification competitions still to come, we will see the increasing strength of the women’s game in every confederation.”
The IRL Wheelchair Advisory Group (WHAG) is now working on plans with each nation that has expressed an interest and will work on specific programmes aimed at ensuring that 16 nations are as prepared as possible for the competition.
Pippa Britton, Chair of WHAG, commented, “It is fantastic to see the level of interest in participating in wheelchair rugby league at France2025. Our development group has already started the process of working with each nation to ensure the best preparation possible is available. An application and selection process is sensible for 2025, however we do see qualification as a natural development for future world cups.”
Interest in the youth competition includes six nations from the MEA region. Regional Manager Remond Safi said, “There is no doubt that the MEA region is a breeding ground of talented rugby league players. We will almost certainly see MEA participation in each of the competitions at France2025 and that drives a great deal of interest amongst our members. These are great steps to expand our footprint in MEA.”
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The IRL Board has confirmed that the youth competition will be for under 19-year-old males, that is boys born in 2006 and 2007. Players born in 2008 and 2009 may apply for dispensation to play. Confederations will be entitled to use regional competitions as qualification events.
Speaking about this milestone, IRL Chair Troy Grant said, “International rugby league is growing at a phenomenal rate, and it is great to witness. We expected strong interest, but this has exceeded those expectations. France2025 has promised “sport for all” and this initial stage of the process has confirmed that we are on track to deliver that promise.
“We will now set about designing the qualification process for the women’s competition, which we will announce in June as part of the wider international calendar. The wheelchair and youth competitions will be based upon applications and that process will also be announced before the end of this year.”