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Rugby League chief optimistic over 2021 World Cup

The tournament is scheduled to begin on October 23 next year.

Tournament chief executive Jon Dutton has spoken of his optimism for the 2021 World Cup despite the lingering impact of the coronavirus pandemic as the 12-month countdown began.

Dutton remains confident crowds will return to rugby league in time for the start of the 61-match tournament on October 23, 2021, as organisers launched a public ticket ballot to mark the occasion.

"One year to go is a really seminal moment for us, a critical milestone on quite a long journey so far," Dutton told a media briefing.

To celebrate 'one year to go', organisers have also released "The Power of Together" declaration by Manchester poet Tony Walsh, aka Longfella.

Poet Tony Walsh aka Longfella, outside Old Trafford to launch the Rugby League World Cup 2021 Ticket Ballot and mark the one year countdown to the tournament (Dave Thompson/PA Wire)

Dutton said: "We are thrilled that a figure such as Tony who, like Rugby League, is a huge part of Northern culture has helped us mark a year to go to the tournament with this iconic poem and video – filmed at the RLWC2021 tournament final venue – Old Trafford, Manchester."

"Tony captures everything that is great about the sport and the tournament, particularly the special way it is woven into the fabric of local communities and the positive social impact the tournament is delivering through a clear purpose."

Walsh said: "Themes like passion and a sense of community are often features of my poetry and few sports can rival rugby league for these things.

"So, the invitation to capture the spirit of the game and to help build excitement for a world class sporting event, right here on our doorsteps, was one that I couldn't resist.

"Sport has a unique capacity to unite and inspire us and we need that more than ever in these most challenging of times."

Dutton says organisers have drawn up contingency plans in the event of the virus continuing to adversely affect sport.

These include socially-distanced crowds, a postponement to 2022 and, in the worse-case scenario, a cancellation.

"I can't envisage playing the tournament behind closed doors but who knows?" said Dutton.

"There is such a strong desire from every single partner to see this tournament stay in 2021. Should that not be the case, we do have a back-up plan to put it back by 12 months.

"We are in the best possible place and we've got off to a really exceptional start with ticket sales.

"I am more optimistic than ever before and more positive than ever before and we've been really comforted by our decision to go on sale and vindication for the number of people who have made the pledge.

"Pre-sale has exceeded our expectations. Not surprisingly, the opening game in Newcastle and the men's and women's finals at Old Trafford are the biggest sellers but we've sold tickets at all 61 games, including the women's and wheelchair events.

"We have the benefit of the next 12 months to shape our planning. We have offered fans a 100 per cent refund guarantee if the tournament is disrupted by reduced capacities."

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Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley scores a try against Salford Red Devils in the Challenge Cup Final on October 17, 2020
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Thursday's key events


ATHLETICS
· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

MARATHON SWIMMING
· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

BOXING
· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

DIVING
· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

HOCKEY
· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

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