Jon Dutton says there is a ’50/50′ chance of the Rugby League World Cup taking place following Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawal.
Crucial talks are set to take place in the coming days, including an anonymous player survey to determine the appetite of players across the world following the withdrawal of the two powerhouse nations.
Dutton, who confirmed the decision of the ARLC and NZRL was ‘irreversible’, confirmed a final decision on the tournament’s status will be made no later than next week.
There are three options; to stage the tournament and replace Australia and New Zealand, to postpone the tournament or to cancel it completely.
Dutton admitted the preference of the organisers was to stage the event as planned. Talks have taken place with representatives of Indigenous and Maori select sides regarding the prospect of them stepping up. However, a major issue remains whether NRL clubs will release players to participate in the competition. Dutton had a call with a handful of NRL chief executives to discuss their concerns on Thursday morning.
“It’s probably 50/50 but we can’t and don’t know until we listen to the players,” Dutton said.
“We’ve worked closely with the RLPA and I can not speak highly enough of Clint Newton and his team. What’s clear is player choice and player voice wasn’t considered and we don’t want to take the same approach.
“A lot of the concerns are well-being rather than safety, being in a bubble environment, away from their families. Without players we don’t have a tournament.”
He continued: “Time is not on our side.
“Within the next 96 hours we need to get in front of as many players as possible to understand their fears.
“We are just over 80 days away from the tournament and we are talking about making a decision in a handful of days. I think at some point next week we will have a clear outcome.”
On the prospect of Indigenous and Maori sides making their way to the tournament, Dutton admitted it came with logistical issues as well as player availability, given the reluctance of some NRL clubs.
“We’ve been in communication with Indigenous and Maori reps. We’re excited by those propositions, they’re not national teams that readily exist but certainly that communication and consultation is already underway.
“They have to be sanctioned and that’s why it’s very much a position for the IRL. I think the precedent was set when a Maori team played in 2000, albeit in very different circumstances. We want to see the best players in the world.”