RESULTS from the 2017 Rugby League World Cup have created a ‘perfect storm’ for a team from Latin America to make an unprecedented entry into the 2021 version of the tournament.
As a historic first Latin American Rugby League Championships gets set to begin in Chile this Friday, November 17, the door to the game’s showpiece has been nudged further ajar for competing Latino nations.
Under guidelines publicly stated by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) before this year’s World Cup, up to three teams from the Americas can now qualify for the 2021 event.
A strong showing from the Pacific nations at this year’s tournament – with all six making the quarter finals – and a ground-breaking effort by Lebanon mean that those nations have automatically qualified for 2021.
This contrasts with five of six European teams missing the quarter finals, with only England guaranteed a place in 2021.
In April this year the Rugby League International Federation stated that the 2021 tournament would be comprised of 16 teams – an increase of two nations on the current scenario.
The Americas will have two guaranteed places under this arrangement, while a third-ranked Americas team will play the leading team from the Africa-Middle East region (excluding Lebanon) and the seventh-ranked team from the Asia-Pacific region for the remaining spot.
While established rugby league nations the USA, Canada and Jamaica would have front running to fill the top three Americas roles, the newcomers from Latin America have been given a sense of hope.
“I’m sure I share the excitement of many at results from the current Rugby League World Cup, but particularly now there is a clear pathway for Latino nations to future tournaments,” Latin American Rugby League president Daniel Godinez said.
“This Friday and Saturday will see the leading countries from around Latin America assembling in Los Angeles, southern Chile for what we already consider to be a momentous championship.
“There are presently three RLIF-ranked Latin American nations, and following this tournament there should be six ranked Latino nations.
“We give full respect to the USA, Canada and Jamaica as the leading nations in the region, and it would take a concerted and rapid improvement to match them, but the mere promise of hope for Latino nations will no doubt see many ambitions flourish.”
At present the three RLIF-ranked Latin American nations are Chile, El Salvador and Uruguay, with Argentina and Colombia also certain to become ranked after this weekend’s championship. Brazil and Mexico are also in the frame to become ranked in coming months.
Ninety per cent of players featuring at this week’s Primer Campeonato Latinoamericano are players based domestically in Latin America, with a handful of Australian-based heritage players adding their experience to the competing teams.
This includes 2017 Latin American Rugby League Players’ Player recipient James Horvat, who will represent his mother’s nation of Chile and 2017 Best and Fairest winner Sebastian Martinez, a Colombian-born player who played rugby league from a young age in Australia.
In total, 13 volunteer players and officials from Australia have paid their own way to Chile to hold coaching and development clinics, and aide the staging of the championships.
This includes Brisbane-based player Jonathan Espinoza and coach Rodrigo Millar, who are on their second self-funded tours of the continent to spread the sport.
Almost 100kg in jerseys, rugby league balls and boots will be distributed by the delegation to representatives of competing nations, thanks to donations from fans around the world.
You can make a donation towards the considerable expenses involved in running the Latin American Rugby League Championship via the link: www.chuffed.org/project/latino-rugby-league-championship