World Cup boss admits Covid-19 vaccines are huge boost to schedule hopes

HOPES of this year’s Rugby League World Cup going ahead have received a huge shot in the arm – thanks to the Covid-19 vaccines.

Tournament bosses admit the winter will decide whether the Autumn’s showpiece in England will happen as normal, with reduced capacities, be postponed or even cancelled.

But chief executive Jon Dutton, who admits the challenges of the pandemic have been huge, believes the development and rollout of jabs means the likelihood of it going on as scheduled is higher.

England are meant to kick off the tournament against Samoa on October 23 at Newcastle’s St James’ Park. However, several men's games are in a current tier four area.

Yet Dutton said: “Like many others in similar circumstances the tournament has had to relentlessly scenario plan as the landscape has changed.

“With just less than 300 days to go until the men’s tournament gets under way at St James' Park there are several challenges still to overcome.

“But the vaccine has given additional confidence to an already optimistic, positive and realistic organising committee.”

England boss Shaun Wane aims to go one better than predecessor Wayne Bennett did in 2017 by winning the World Cup – the women’s and wheelchair sides hope to make it a treble.

And the success of the tournament is seen by many as crucial to the 13-a-side code’s future.

Ticket sales have exceeded expectations, with 70 per cent of buyers being new to the sport and SunSport can reveal there were sales in the USA, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Israel.

And Dutton believes the World Cup can provide some much needed hope to rugby league fans that have been shut out of grounds since March.

He added: “Despite the pandemic and continual uncertainty, we made significant progress in 2020.

“The official tournament draw at Buckingham Palace hosted by Duke of Sussex, ticket sales that have significantly exceeded expectations, a record-breaking sponsorship deal and a social impact programme that continues to make a difference are some of the achievements to celebrate.

“Achieving high, early tickets sales points to a pent-up desire to see live events

“Added to this, London post codes topping the ticket ballot with 70 per cent of buyers being new to the sport gives the strongest indicator of the tournament reaching beyond the loyal core fan base.

“Predictably the double header men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford along with the opening game in Newcastle and the men’s semi-final at the Emirates Stadium are the best sellers but the wish to see debutants Jamaica, Brazil and Greece is very strong.

“It promises to be a feast of international rugby league and a new year’s gift that everyone can look forward to with great hope.”

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