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World Cup organisers reeling after Australia, New Zealand withdraw

Tournament officials are understood to have been given just four minutes' notice ahead of the announcement.

World Cup organisers are frantically working out their next step following the decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out of the tournament.

A week on from announcing the event would go ahead as planned in England in October and November, officials were caught on the hop by the news from down under and are hurriedly trying to assemble an emergency board meeting to discuss their response.

The PA news agency understands that the tournament officials were given just four minutes' notice of the announcement from the governing bodies in Australia and New Zealand, who claimed it is "simply too unsafe" to travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It remains to be seen whether the tournament can now go ahead without Australia, who have won the tournament a record 11 times, and 2008 champions New Zealand.

With Covid-19 infection rates in England continuing to rise, the two southern hemisphere powerhouses have decided to pull out after repeated calls for the competition to be postponed until 2022.

A joint statement from the two nations said: "The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.

"The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.

"The ARLC and NZRL have resolved, that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021."

NZRL chief executive Greg Peters cited "stark differences" between the management of the pandemic in the UK and Australasia and insisted it was "simply too unsafe" for the teams to take part in the tournament.

He said: "The safety and well-being of our people is the main priority, and unfortunately, that cannot be guaranteed to our satisfaction.

"There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.

"The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it's simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.

"We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved; however player and staff safety remains paramount."

Australia have won the Rugby League World Cup a record 11 times
Australia have won the Rugby League World Cup a record 11 times (Gregg Porteous/PA Media)

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys AM reiterated his New Zealand counterpart's concerns and issued a renewed appeal for the tournament to be rescheduled for next year.

"In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and well-being of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable," he said.

"The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia. This is too much to ask our players and officials to do.

"We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate."

A statement issued by World Cup organisers said: "RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League.

"RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course."

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Australia celebrate winning the Rugby League World Cup in December 2017
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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
ChinaChina21131246
JapanJapan175830
United StatesUnited States16171346
Olympics flagOlympic Athletes from Russia10151136
AustraliaAustralia1031427
Great BritainGreat Britain891128
Today's Olympic highlights header

Saturday's key events


TRIATHLON
· After silvers in both the men's and women's events, Team GB will be fancied to get on the podium again in the mixed relay (11.30pm-1am)

SWIMMING
· Touted as Michael Phelps's successor, Caeleb Dressel already has two gold medals from these Games and he will be going for a third in the men's 50m butterfly final (2.30am)
· It is Katie Ledecky vs. Ariarne Titmus III in the women's 800m freestyle final, with Ledecky entering as firm favourite (2.46am)
· Great Britain will be heavily fancied to add another gold medal to their swimming haul, having produced by far the fastest qualifying time for the mixed 4x100m medley relay final (3.43am)

ATHLETICS
· Dina Asher-Smith is one of three British women in the 100m semi-finals (3.01am-3.20am), and will hope to challenge for a medal in what is likely to be a star-studded final (1.50pm)
· The inaugural Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event concludes with Great Britain one of the eight finalists going for gold (1.35pm)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB's dreams of an unlikely gold are still alive in the women's event as they face France in their semi-final (3.30am). The winners will face either New Zealand or Fiji in the gold medal match later in the day (10am)

SAILING
· Gold medals are up for grabs in the windsurfer - RS:X finals. Emma Wilson participates for Team GB in the women's final (6.33am), while Tom Squires is in action in the men's (7.33am)

TENNIS
· Following his shock semi-final defeat, ending his hopes of a Golden Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic battles for bronze against Pablo Carreno Busta (7am)
· The women's singles event reaches its conclusion with the gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova

> Today's schedule in full
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