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Rugby League World Cup slides into crisis

By AAP
Sam Burgess (R) of England pushes Billy Slater (L) of Australia during the rugby league World Cup men's final match between Australia and England in Brisbane on December 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Patrick HAMILTON

Rugby League is searching for a new host for the 2025 World Cup after French organisers withdrew, citing financial issues.

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Australia and New Zealand are being mooted as possible hosts, perhaps jointly, though likely with a delay to 2026.

The two nations co-hosted in 2017 with three matches also being played in Papua New Guinea. Australia last hosted the event alone in 2008. The 2021 edition of the tournament was held in England having been delayed to 2022 by COVID-19.

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France won the bid to host the 2025 World Cup in January 2022 but in recent days it has become clear there were funding problems after a reduction in government backing.

“Despite all the work carried out by the organising committee, it hasn’t been possible to fully secure the risk of a deficit,” organisers said.

“Despite the interest shown in this unique sport … the board had to decide to renounce organising this major international competition, which the Internat ional Rugby League had entrusted to France.

“The conditions of financial viability initially defined by the state to support the project, set in January 2022, were not fully met, despite the search for solutions and the additional three months granted by the state to the organising committee at the end of 2022.”

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The ambitious tournament was planned to be rugby league’s biggest to date with four tournaments running simultaneously: men’s, women’s and wheelchairs, each with 16 teams, and a youth competition, for a total of 128 matches.

In a statement later on Monday, International Rugby League (IRL) said it expected to be able to inform member nations of planned qualifying matches and alternative fixtures by July.

“The French government, particularly the Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, supported the bid team financially and granted additional time to meet benchmarks…,” IRL chair Troy Grant said.

“I respect the French government’s decision amid the challenges they are facing but I can’t hide my disapp ointment, that I conveyed clearly to them in person.

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“Despite our focus having been on France, we will now accelerate our consideration of other contingency options.”

The French men’s and women’s teams were beaten 64-0 by England in back-to-back thrashings last month but their wheelchair team had reached the last three global finals.

France will host this year’s men’s rugby union World Cup from September 8-October 28.

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