Cook Islands Rugby League (CIRL) is determined to send squads to the Rugby League World Cup to be held in England later in the year despite a decision by New Zealand and Australia to pull out.
Neither the Kiwis nor the Kangaroos will contest the 2021 Rugby League World Cup but CIRL is confident it will get two squads and a support team – 64 people – to the United Kingdom in October.
New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) and the Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) jointly confirmed last week they will not send teams to the tournament, citing player welfare and safety concerns.
ARLC and NZRL have requested the tournament be postponed until 2022 to minimise the risk of players contracting Covid-19 and ensure the best outcome for player wellbeing.
However, Charles Carlson, the CIRL president, said Cook Islands will be sending two squads, men’s and women’s teams to the World Cup pending a meeting with international officials on Thursday this week.
“At the moment we are awaiting a final decision to see if the World Cup will happen in October,” Carlson said.
“New Zealand and Australia pulling out of the World Cup has put a spanner in the works for us.
“It could go either way and we have already planned to go.”
Carlson said he was confident he would find the $1 million he estimated was needed to get the teams to the event.
“We are looking at logistics and costs, some costs are already covered.
“We will find a way to go, we have the squads ready to go.”
Carlson said airfares, accommodation and transport costs had already been taken care of.
“There are hidden costs, apparel and gear alone will cost between $30,000 and $40,000, plus we are going into winter so we will need a lot of warm clothes.”
Carlson said there were also logistical challenges in terms of assembling players as about half were from New Zealand and half from Australia.
The preferred option was to have all players fly direct to the United Kingdom to avoid any Covid-19 related complications in Australasia, he said.
New sponsors, Rarotonga based online brokers 4XC jumped on board this week with a silver sponsorship deal.
Executive director Siva Gounder said he understood the many challenges faced by small nations like Cook Islands to compete at international levels.
“Thanks to the excellence and the strengths of the nation’s rugby league players and the opportunity for 4XC to be part of the sponsorship campaign, we are honoured to showcase and represent Cook Islands talent and culture around the world.”
The Rugby League World Cup for men, women and wheelchair athletes is expected to draw teams from about 20 nations, including several still struggling with Covid-19.
Thirty-two teams from countries within the United Kingdom, Europe, North, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands - including Cook Islands men's and women's teams - and the Caribbean have qualified.
The tournament in England is scheduled to run between October 23 and November 27 and for the first time all three competitions will run concurrently.