The decision to withdraw Australia and New Zealand from the Rugby World Cup is “premature”, according to the Australian players’ union.
The Rugby Players’ Association (RLPA) said some of its members wanted to travel to England for the tournament in the autumn.
Australia and New Zealand withdrew on Thursday over “player welfare and safety issues” related to Covid-19.
RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said the decision was “disappointing”.
“We have received responses from a number of players eligible to play in these national competitions stating their intention to play and are awaiting further information in the coming weeks,” he said in a statement.
“It is clear that the views of these players are not sufficient to prevent this decision, which we believe is premature.”
The RLPA represents players in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL), which also includes players from Tonga, Fiji and Samoa, who will continue to play in the World Cup.
Newton said he would continue to work with tournament organizers to ensure the health and safety of players whose countries remain committed to the tournament.
“For the players representing the remaining participating countries, our priority will be to ensure that appropriate health and safety measures are in place while providing them with the relevant information to make an informed decision about their participation,” he added.
“We had envisaged that Australian and New Zealand players would also have that opportunity and unfortunately last night’s decision denied them that opportunity.
The organizers were informed of Australia and New Zealand’s intention to withdraw just four minutes beforehand. Rugby Football League (RFL) chairman Simon Johnson called it a “selfish, narrow-minded and cowardly decision”.
New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) chief executive Greg Peters said some of the comments criticizing the decision were “ill-advised and ill-considered”.
He told the BBC’s Newsnight program, “If it’s cowardly to look after your people and ensure their safety (which I have a legal obligation to do, let alone a human obligation), then I must be a coward. But I don’t think that’s the case.
“This highlights the huge difference between acceptable management of the pandemic in the UK and acceptable management in New Zealand and Australia.
“In the UK there are probably more than 50,000 cases a day. We will close our borders and put up a blockade for a small number of cases. Only the safety of our people comes first.
“This is not a new conversation. The organizers may say it was hidden or took them by surprise, but they have been fully aware of our concerns since late last year. It’s come to this because the issue has been forced because we’re only 10 weeks away from the start of the race.”
About half of Australia has been re-banned after a spike in Covid 19 cases, while most coronavirus restrictions in England have been lifted despite a rise in cases.
There are also fears that players and staff will have to be quarantined for 14 days when they return to Australia, as the country’s borders are currently closed due to the pandemic.
These rules mean that players will not be able to return to their NRL clubs until two weeks before the start of Test matches for the 2022 season.
As a result, both countries have called for the match to be postponed until 2022, although organizers say this would cause further problems as it would clash with other major sporting events scheduled for that year.