The International Rugby League (IRL) board is due to meet in Singapore at the end of this month for what will be one of its most crucial meetings in recent memory.
The big issue that will be front and centre is what to do about the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.
As we know, the 2025 RLWC is now up in the air because the French Rugby League Federation (@FFRXIII) backed out of hosting the tournament at the eleventh hour. The organising committee admitted it couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t run at a loss, which was one of the main conditions the Macron government insisted on for it to approve #rlwc2025.
That is now causing some unforeseen dilemmas because 1) it has left the IRL with the massive job of finding a last-minute replacement host, and 2) in turn, that host or hosts will have only two years to get their house in order and that is a very tall order even for cashed up leagues.
Pretty much right after the French Rugby League Federation news broke, it was suggested that Australia and New Zealand could jointly host the tournament just as they did in 2017, or maybe that each could do it independently.
At the same time, three actual bids to host the tournament were submitted by Qatar, South Africa and Fiji. The Qatari and South African bids are for sole hosting rights, while the Fijians would more than likely be part of a joint-host setup, possibly with one or more South Pacific Island nations, or maybe just New Zealand.
So, what is the IRL to do?
Well, IRL chairman Troy Grant and secretary-general Danny Kazandjian have said they are open to all suggestions and will review all ideas put to them in Singapore.
As a result of the French bombshell back in mid-May, most of the RLWC qualifying series that were due to be held later this year were immediately put on hold, at least for the time being.
At the time, Grant said the IRL had no choice but to look at what to do about the qualifiers at the meeting in Singapore.
“Other than a couple of the qualifications that are coming up very soon, we’ve decided it’s not right to run them at some expense if they’re going to be irrelevant to a decision taken in July,” he said. “So, they’ve just been postponed.”
Kazandjian added that a final decision on those qualifying series will likely be made after the meeting.
“We have to go through the process of assessing what we’re doing in 2025 and onwards,” he said. “And we expect any decisions about qualifiers, such as the Americas, after our end of July meeting.”
European Championships that were set to be played in October and November were postponed by the European Rugby League (ERL) because of the uncertain #rlwc2025 circumstances.
“It was a tremendously difficult decision, but the circumstances have left us in an almost impossible position,” said ERL chair Dean Andrew.
“Once RLWC2025 details are known, we expect a revised, transparent and inclusive qualification pathway to be confirmed and fixtures rearranged.”
The US, Canada, Jamaica and Brazil are supposed to play off in the #rlwc2025 Americas region qualifying series, and as always, that series is due to double up as the Americas Rugby League Championship. At the time of the French backing out as hosts, decisions had not yet been made on where and when that championship is to be played.
Presumably, clarification on those things will follow the IRL gathering in Singapore.
Because there isn’t much time to find a replacement host and for that country, or countries, to make #rlwc2025 happen, another possibility the IRL will consider is skipping it completely and looking ahead to 2029, and Grant has not ruled that out.
“So far as the World Cup side of it, that’s a possibility,” he said. “No decisions have been made; everything is on the table.
“If that was to occur, there would still be content of significance in ’25. There’s just been no discussion of substance to answer that but everything’s a possibility at this stage.”
One other option that will likely be on the table in Singapore is to push the 2025 tournament back a year and play it in 2026 so that the hosts will have more time to get all their ducks in a row.
However, as the Australian state of Victoria has shown with its surprise decision to do a FFRXIII and back out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, money is at the core of whether hosting big international sporting events is financially viable.
The Victorian government claims the projected $2.6 billion it had budgeted to host the Games has now blown out to more than $6 billion and it does not want to take that money away from things like hospitals and schools.
While the final costs for staging #rlwc2021 have not yet been released, those numbers are expected to be tabled this Wednesday (July 26) at the RFL’s annual general meeting.
What is already known is that the Rugby Football League (RFL) got around $47 million in assistance from the British government to help cover the costs of hosting the tournament.
Of course, the cost of a Rugby League World Cup does not run into the billions of dollars and is not as big of a political hot potato as the Commonwealth Games, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the bill for hosting #rlwc2025 will top anything that we have seen to date.
And taking that notion one step further, given the fact that hosting a Rugby League World Cup is comparatively costly nonetheless, it surely rules out smaller countries that have less than robust economies. In plain English, that means the bids by South Africa and Fiji probably don’t cut the mustard.
On the flipside, it also means that economically speaking at least, Qatar’s bid is perhaps the most legitimate of the three.
The economics of hosting #rlwc2025, along with the shortened time frame between now and then and the logistics of doing so are all genuine issues the IRL will undoubtedly take into consideration in Singapore.
The IRL board meeting opens on Monday, July 31st.