Rugby league: Safety, vaccine concerns behind New Zealand's Rugby League World Cup withdrawal

Rugby league: Safety, vaccine concerns behind New Zealand's Rugby League World Cup withdrawal

New Zealand Rugby league chief executive Greg Peters said “real concerns” for safety was the driving force behind the withdrawal of New Zealand teams from the Rugby League World Cup, while some players being hesitant to be vaccinated also factored into their decision.

New Zealand and Australia, ranked No 1 and 2 in the world, announced they would not be attending the tournament in England in October, citing safety concerns of travelling to and taking part in a tournament in a country that is still recording upwards of 40,000 positive Covid-19 tests on a daily basis.

In withdrawing, the two organisations also called for the tournament to be postponed until 2022.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB’s Elliott Smith, New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters explained the decision to withdraw from the tournament.

“About a month ago, we signed a heavily conditioned participation agreement, and the conditions were around our safety concerns about biosecurity procedures and processes in the UK, the appetite of our playing group to actually want to travel to the UK after all the challenges they’ve faced in the NRL competition this year, and the number of our group that were able to get the vaccine or wanted to take the vaccine by that time. All of those considerations came into it,” Peters explained.

“Who knows what 2022 would hold in terms of ease of movement and international travel, but I guess we would be a little bit more certain with the number of people vaccinated by then. But, again, with a big group of people amongst our playing demographic who potentially will choose not to take the vaccine, that’s also a consideration for us.”

Rugby League Players’ Association chief executive Clint Newton said the organisation felt the decision was made prematurely.

“The news overnight that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in the 2021 World Cup is no doubt disappointing for players who were hoping to represent their nations in the tournament,” Newton said.

Rugby league: Safety, vaccine concerns behind New Zealand's Rugby League World Cup withdrawal

The Kiwis have withdrawn from the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Photo / Photosport

“We have had feedback from a number of players eligible for these nations stating their intentions to compete in the tournament, pending more information becoming available in the coming weeks. Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely.

“We have worked closely with Rugby League World Cup staff for some time now and we are committed to continuing those discussions regarding player health and safety protocols.

“We have an obligation to advocate on behalf of all players to secure the best possible terms and conditions for the tournament, and this remains ongoing.”

New Zealand and Australia are the only two teams to withdraw from the tournament at this point, meaning it will be the first time since 1972 that a transtasman team won’t lift the Cup should it go ahead as planned. Australia have won eight of the last nine titles, with New Zealand winning the other.

Newton said the RLPA would be working closely with players of nations still attending the tournament, providing them with information so they can make an their own informed decisions about whether or not to put their names forward for selection.

“We had anticipated that players from Australia and New Zealand would have that same opportunity, which has unfortunately been taken away from them with last night’s decision.”

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