RLWC2021 boss ready to make 2021 a 'true celebration of sport' after COVID-19

RUGBY League World Cup 2021 chief executive Jon Dutton tonight pledged to help make next year a “true celebration of sport” - and maintained the competition could flourish alongside the rescheduled Olympics and football’s European Championships.

Australia celebrate after winning the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final against England in Brisbane. (SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ/Tertius Pickard / www.photosport.nz)
Australia celebrate after winning the 2017 Rugby League World Cup final against England in Brisbane. (SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ/Tertius Pickard / www.photosport.nz)

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The tournament - which takes place across 21 venues in England including Leeds United’s Elland Road and Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane - is making its own contingency plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Dutton believes it will still be a success despite an admission previously set financial targets cannot be guaranteed and myriad issues it must deal with.

RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton (SWPIX)

For instance, initially the sport would have been able to enjoy and maximise the limelight given there were no other major global sporting events planned for 2021.

However, the pandemic has seen this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and the Euros both postponed for 12 months, bringing them into potential competition.

However, Dutton said last night: “The news is still very recent in terms of moving the Olympics and Paralympics but it is now a true celebration of sport in 2021.

“We believe that could actually work in our favour.

England's Kallum Watkins is tap-tackled in the 2017 World Cup final against Australia in Brisbane. (Tertius Pickard/SWpix.com/PhotosportNZ)

“Obviously, there’s the events in Tokyo, springboarding into the UK with the mens’ football European Championship final at Wembley and then still a gap between that and the Rugby League World Cup in October and November.

“It may have an impact on our commercial landscape and broadcast; it’s too early to say.

“But at this point in time we see it more being in our favour than as a threat.”

Nevertheless, with both Super League and the NRL currently on lockdown indefinitely, there are obvious issues that organisers must contend with.

“There are things that might make an impact on us that we don’t quite yet know about yet,” Dutton continued.

“For example, the start of the domestic 2021 season in both the UK and Australia and the availability of athletes.

“The Rugby League World Cup has to really be played at that particular time of year we have in October and November so any delays at the start of the 2021 season will clearly impact.

“We have Premier League and Championship football grounds and many stadia across the 21 venues where there are considerations about so we will have to keep a watching brief.

“But time is on our side. There’s almost 21 months before the World Cup is due to start.

“We don’t believe that will have an impact on ticket sales.”

Dutton said pushing back the tournament to 2022 had not been considered - it was “unfeasible” regardless - and there is a hope more people could actually attend given so many games are expected to be lost this season.

“We do believe it is an opportunity as we want to create a celebration,” added Dutton, who also revealed RLWC2021 have made 20,021 free tickets for the competition available to key workers battling COVID-19.

“When we come through this, whatever the new normal looks like, people will want to have something to look forward to and I maintain this will be a celebration of inclusivity, what a great sport rugby league is and once again how united we can be.”

He did concede losing the Ashes series - when England host Australia in three Tests this autumn - would be a “real blow” and that does now seem likely.

“We hoped to use that as a marketing tool to show people what the World Cup will truly be - nation going against nation,” said Dutton.

“But we’ll wait patiently to hear from the RFL and ARLC (Australian Rugby League Commission) to see whether it goes ahead or not.”

Meanwhile, he said they needed to have some "further conversations" with the BBC who had pledged to show every minute of RLWC2021 live but may now potentially have to alter plans due to the need for Olympics and Euros coverage.

"For the time being, that commitment remains firm," said Dutton.