Mark Staniforth, PA
Mon, 15 May 2023 at 4:57 pm BST
International rugby league is facing an uncertain future after France announced its decision to withdraw from hosting the 2025 World Cup, citing its inability to meet financial guarantees required by the French government.
The move, which affects the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, has left the international game’s governing body, the IRL, scrabbling to consider other “contingency options” in order to ensure the continuation of the event.
However, those options do not include England, as following up its successful staging of the delayed 2021 tournament last year is seen as unfeasible given the short notice and level of finance required, the PA news agency understands.
IRL chief Troy Grant described the move as “very disappointing”, adding: “I respect the French Government’s decision amid the challenges they are facing but I can’t hide my disappointment, that I conveyed clearly to them in person.
“Despite our focus having been on France, we will now accelerate our consideration of other contingency options.”
The most obvious – and perhaps only remaining – option is to stage the tournament in Australia or New Zealand, although even this would be likely to require at least a one-year delay for logistical reasons.
RFL chairman Simon Johnson, who is also an IRL board member, said: “After the success of last autumn’s Rugby League World Cup in England, it is imperative that all in the sport now work with International Rugby League to rebuild the international calendar, for men’s, women’s and wheelchair rugby league.
“We are excited about the prospect of England men hosting Tonga in a three-Test series this autumn, with announcements to follow soon of fixtures for our women’s and wheelchair teams, and discussions already advanced regarding another home series in 2024.”
Rumours of French financial difficulties surfaced earlier this year, and enthusiasm for seeing through the project was hardly bolstered by last month’s double international in Warrington, in which both the French men’s and women’s teams were beaten 64-0 by England in back-to-back landslides.
The move also comes at an embarrassing time for the sport, whose “strategic partner” IMG has underscored the importance of the international fixture list as a cornerstone of its vision to “reimagine” the sport worldwide.
England are close to confirming a series against Samoa, who inflicted an agonising semi-final defeat at the Emirates Stadium last year, in 2024, but the women’s squad have fewer options with only a prospective Test against Wales on the agenda for later in 2023.
And the news will come as a particular blow to the wheelchair game, given France’s record of reaching the last three finals, including their narrow defeat to England last year.