When it comes to the world of sport, everything has changed in just a few short months. The coronavirus pandemic has rendered many sports grounds empty, with games being played amid deserted stands and terraces. Even playing sport together with friends on a casual basis was out for many people for a while, as shared exercise spaces were deemed just too much of a risk to take.
But the good news for fans of rugby league is that the organisers of next year’s World Cup are fighting to make the 2021 tournament, which is due to be held in England, one of the best ever. This article will explore more about how the event is likely to change once it gets underway.
Smaller events cancelled
While the 2021 Rugby League World Cup is still well over a year away, steps have been taken by the organisers to make it as safe and accessible as possible, given the backdrop of the current pandemic. Organisers have, for example, taking the difficult decision to postpone the Festival of World Cups, which was a miniature version of the tournament aimed at armed forces personnel, students and more. It was due to be held over the summer of 2021 before the main events began.
The tournament’s Chief Executive, Jon Dutton, said the organisation was “disappointed that the Festival of World Cups will not be able to go ahead as planned in 2021.” But he also struck a positive note and hinted that the event may return at a future point. “We look forward to future plans being made that will support these tournaments to take place and enable the ongoing development of international Rugby League,” he explained.
Protection for fans
Given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the long period of time between now and the kick-off of the first match, big decisions are hard to take. But the organisers of the event have already been proactive and put some consumer protections in place for fans looking to buy tickets. If the event is cancelled or a lower than expected cap on spectators is introduced, ticket holders who are affected will be able to claim back all of their money.
According to one report, Dutton has confirmed that planning for the event did include considering an overall event postponement of around a year – although that, at present, does not seem to be on the cards, with the online fixture list remaining packed.
But while the impact that the coronavirus pandemic may have has quite rightly captured the attention of most fans, there’s another dynamic to consider as well. This event is likely to be the most inclusive Rugby World Cup to ever have been held, not least because all three separate strands of the tournament – the men’s contest, women’s contest and wheelchair contest – will all happen at around the same time. And 2021 will mark the inaugural Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup, signifying a new milestone for the sport.
At this tournament, all these events will happen alongside one another, rather than being staggered, and the finals will be played over the same weekend. Players in wheelchairs will go to head in the first final in Liverpool on November 26th, and then the following day, there will be two more exciting finals – one for men and one for women. This way, no single one of the three strands will be elevated in importance over another.
All over England
Rugby league is a major pastime in England, but it is especially so in the North – and fans can expect to see many of this year’s matches being played in so-called “host cities” across the top half of England. Cities that are earmarked for games include major Northern hubs such as Newcastle and Leeds, while smaller places such as Leigh, Bolton and Huddersfield are also on the list. But other parts of the country will also be represented – some events will take place in London, while Coventry in the Midlands will also see some action.
With such an uncertain context surrounding all sporting events at the moment, it may seem at first glance like the wrong time to be thinking about next year’s big rugby league contest. But the reality is that the organisers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England have gone the extra mile to ensure that fans will enjoy the event. From anti-coronavirus measures to a push for inclusivity, it’s looking likely that this event will be distinctive, safe and special.