Following the postponement of the 2021 Women’s 6 Nations, concerns are spreading across the women’s game about the viability of staging the Rugby World Cup later in the year.
RWC2021 in New Zealand is set for September. It is still awaiting qualification of a quarter of the participating teams. Alongside hosts New Zealand and 2017 runners-up England, France, USA, Canada, Australia, Wales, South Africa and Fiji are confirmed. The remaining three places require completion of four further qualifying tournaments or World Rugby will be forced to consider using the world rankings where Italy and Ireland are best placed, followed by Spain.
The Rugby World Cup is seven months away. Decisions must be taken by World Rugby to allow sufficient time for unions to prepare their women’s teams accordingly. Those decisions, however, may not be about how to determine the final qualifying teams but more the viability of staging the tournament in its entirety.
New Zealand has seen just over 2,200 cases of COVID-19 among a population of over four million. The country operates a strict 14-day quarantine procedure for all passenger arrivals, through managed isolation costed at $3,100 (NZD) per adult or $4050 for a maximum of two adults per room. It is hard to see that their immigration strategy will change by September, given its effectiveness.
Quarantining an entire RWC squad and its support staff would cost upwards of $100,000 (approx. £52,600 GBP). It is not clear yet whether this cost must be swallowed by each union or on behalf of all twelve teams by World Rugby, a cool $1.2m.
This 14-day period may also affect team squad sizes. Should a scrum-half or tighthead prop suffer an injury in the opening round of matches on Sept 18th, the option to fly in a replacement would at best mean they are available after quarantine by October 4th, missing the remaining pool matches and the quarter-finals the day before. Squad sizes may therefore need to increase from a likely 32 to 35, again increasing costs on World Rugby’s potential quarantine and tournament food bill.
The amateur status of the majority of the women’s game means players’ availability to participate may also be affected by the quarantine. While World Rugby were right to extend the tournament to allow for greater rest periods between matches, it is now a four-week competition. Assuming teams would arrive to acclimatise and train a week before it starts, this five week trip becomes seven weeks with the managed isolation taken into account. Women’s rugby players have courted many considerate employers over the years to allow them to train and play for their countries but this extended period of absence may be an ask too far and will no doubt be in the minds of athletes now as they continue their preparation.
Sources among some qualified unions have spoken of a determination to find solutions and that World Rugby are liaising with the NZRU and New Zealand government, no doubt on any ways to circumvent the strict entry requirements. Unions are expecting to receive more information next month with a wider decision on the tournament expected by March.
A World Rugby spokesperson commented: “World Rugby is working through any logistical challenges in full partnership with participating unions and the host union and remains confident that a spectacular tournament will go ahead as planned.”
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