The committee also endorsed work to develop and fund a Rugby World Cup 2021 high performance preparation and competition programme for qualified teams and teams still competing in the qualification process. The programme will be underpinned by a £2million funding package and will focus on providing teams with international competition to give them the greatest opportunity to be at their best in New Zealand next year.
The decision to postpone this year’s tournament was taken following extensive discussions with New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand Government and participating unions as a result of the continued impact and insurmountable uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
• Uncertainty and risk surrounding safe and reliable travel for more than 600 players, staff and tournament personnel
• Uncertainty surrounding the ability to guarantee high-performance training environments for teams going through the 14-day managed isolation and quarantine process on arrival in New Zealand, that would allow them to prepare properly for a Rugby World Cup
• Uncertainty of adequate preparation for all teams, with some teams unable to fully assemble as a training squad or play test matches for more than 12 months
• Ongoing challenges surrounding the completion of the global qualification process due to international travel restrictions and varying and unpredictable national quarantine requirements
• Inability at this stage to guarantee full local and international fan attendance at matches (including player families), providing the deserved stage to supercharge the women’s game globally
• In addition, given the existing high-risk threshold, there would have been limited capacity to react to any new risk that may have arisen over the remaining six months until the start of the tournament, which could have resulted in the outright cancellation of the tournament rather than postponement.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Our hearts go out to all the players, team personnel and fans who were preparing and looking forward to Rugby World Cup 2021 this year. We recognise that they will be extremely disappointed, but I would like to assure them that the decision to postpone has been made entirely in the interests of their welfare, well-being and preparation and the desire to put on a showcase tournament that will super-charge women’s rugby globally.
“Given the number of athletes and personnel arriving from numerous locations, recent COVID-19 developments mean that it is simply not possible to guarantee optimal conditions for all teams to prepare for their pinnacle event, with continued uncertainties regarding training and match preparation.
“A Rugby World Cup is the best of the best, for the best of the best, and as we have seen in recent weeks, emergence of COVID-19 variants and ongoing lockdowns show that it is still a fragile global environment.
“The top players in the women’s game should be guaranteed the stage that they deserve, with the opportunity for their family and friends to be able to attend, and also the wider national and international rugby family. Postponement by a year should enable us to enjoy the benefits of the global vaccination programme, easing the burden on international travel requirements and within New Zealand itself.
“I would like to thank New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Government for their support. We will continue to strive to ensure all the conditions are in place for the greatest of Rugby World Cups and I know that all New Zealanders will play their full part.
“I would also like to emphasise that we are unwavering in our commitment to the women’s game and we will be investing over £2million into an international competition schedule for teams to ensure they are at their best for 2022.”
Dates for the postponed tournament to be held in Auckland and Whangarei will be announced shortly following consultation with key tournament stakeholders.