The 2021 women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is set to be postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, World Rugby announced Tuesday.
The governing body said a recommendation to delay the event, originally scheduled for September 18-October 16, would be ratified next week by tournament organisers and the World Rugby executive committee.
While acknowledging delaying the event until 2022 was “hugely disappointing”, World Rugby interim chief executive Alan Gilpin said it was the right thing to do.
“Certainly this decision has players at heart,” he said.
“In recent weeks, through discussions with our key partners in New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand government, it’s become clear that we do not have the level of certainty we need to collectively deliver the best environment for all teams.”
Gilpin cited recent Covid-19 cases in Auckland which have forced New Zealand’s largest city into lockdown this week, despite the South Pacific nation’s previous success in containing the virus.
He also said there were concerns “challenging” global travel restrictions meant teams would not have adequate preparation time for such an important tournament.
The New Zealand government, which has already seen plans to host the women’s Cricket World Cup this year postponed until 2022, said delaying the rugby showcase would not change its major event funding.
“We all wanted the tournament to go ahead as planned this year, but we also accept that the current COVID-19 constrained circumstances are not ideal for high performance athletes in a tournament situation,” Sport Minister Grant Robertson said.
“If they do postpone we are fully committed to hosting the event next year.”
Most international women’s teams are still amateur, making the delay particularly difficult for those who have balanced their lives around training with the aim of peaking at the tournament later this year.
Ireland’s director of women’s rugby Anthony Eddy said his players would remain focused despite their disappointment.
“We want to play rugby (but) the Rugby World Cup deserves every opportunity to showcase the best that our sport has to offer and that’s not possible in the COVID-19 environment,” he said.
USA Rugby said it understood that player safety needed to be the top priority.
“The Women’s Eagles will continue to prepare at the highest level as we all look to celebrate one of the world’s greatest sporting events next year,” it said in a statement.
Rugby Australia said that in the tournament’s absence, it would look at providing an alternative international Test schedule for the Wallaroos this year.