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(BBC SPORT) The Rugby World Cup 2021 is set to be postponed until next year following a recommendation by governing body World Rugby.
The tournament is currently scheduled to be held in New Zealand between 18 September and 16 October. A final decision is expected after the Rugby World Cup board and World Rugby’s executive committee consider the recommendation on 8 and 9 March.
World Rugby said the “challenging Covid landscape” influenced its decision.
It added: “It has become clear in recent discussions with key partners including New Zealand Rugby, the New Zealand government and participating unions, that, given the scale of the event and the Covid-19 related uncertainties, 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 country’s borders are currently closed to almost all travellers and cases have recently emerged in Auckland, one of the country’s host cities. “We are naturally disappointed but understanding of the decision,” said Nicky Ponsford, the Rugby Football Union’s head of women’s performance.
“Player welfare has to be prioritised and ensuring teams both qualify on the pitch and can perform to their best at the tournament is also vitally important for the game.”
Anthony Eddy, Irish Rugby’s director of women’s rugby, added: “We’re obviously disappointed. “We have always put player welfare at the heart of everything we do and that’s never been as important as it has over the past 12 months.”
Charlotte Wathan, the Welsh Rugby Union’s general manager, women’s rugby said, “We’re obviously very disappointed for the players and staff who have supported the development of the programme towards RWC 2021. “Ultimately, player welfare and public health must come first at this time.”
New Zealand has always been viewed as one of the best places on the planet to be hosting a major sporting event in 2021, with some of the lowest Covid numbers in the world. However, hosting an additional 11 arriving Test sides and agreeing suitable quarantine arrangements has proved too much. It is the first time the women’s tournament has been hosted by a southern hemisphere nation, and it’s thought the event will be rearranged for 2022.