The Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is set to be postponed until 2022 because of continued uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
World Rugby cited the “challenging global COVID-19 landscape” on Tuesday for its recommendation to delay the tournament, scheduled Sept. 18 to Oct. 16. The recommendation will be considered by the Rugby World Cup board and World Rugby executive committee next week.
It said its decision had been made in consultation with stakeholders including New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand government and participating unions.
“While appreciating the recommendation is extremely disappointing for teams and fans, it has their interests at heart, and gives the tournament the best opportunity to be all it can be for them, all New Zealanders and the global rugby family,” World Rugby said in a statement. “The recommendation is based on the evolution of the uncertain and challenging global COVID-19 landscape.”
Farah Palmer, a former New Zealand captain, Women's World Cup winner and a board member of New Zealand Rugby, said the delay was understandable given all the uncertainties but still disappointing.
Palmer said it was unlikely for the recommendation to be overturned.
“There will have to be some kind of miracle for that to change, so we just wanted to front foot and make sure everybody is aware that we did try our best," Palmer told TVNZ's Breakfast program on Wednesday. COVID-19 is affecting all teams, "they haven’t even had a chance to play, some of the national teams.”
Nine teams — New Zealand, Australia, Wales, Canada, the United States, England, France, South Africa and Fiji — have qualified for the 12-team tournament. Three more teams were to be found through qualifying tournaments.
World Rugby said it was clear from recent talks with stakeholders that "it is just not possible to deliver the environment for all teams to be the best that they can be on the sport’s greatest stage.”
“The challenges include uncertainty and the ability for teams to prepare adequately for a Rugby World Cup tournament both before and on arrival in New Zealand and challenging global travel restrictions,” it added.
In a video message, World Rugby acting chief executive Alan Gilpin said that while the decision would be “hugely disappointing to players and fans” it had been made with “players at heart.”
“Rugby World Cup 2021 is the pinnacle of women’s rugby and we are committed to provide the best conditions for players and teams to prepare fully and compete at their best," he said. "Postponing the tournament to next year provides the best opportunity to do that.”
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