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World Cup headache after African and Asian shutdown

All women’s regional level tournaments planned for 2020 in Africa and Asia have now been cancelled, adding to problems for 2021 World Cup organisers.

Despite hopes and plans to restart domestic women’s rugby in some parts of the world, the regional federations in both Asia and Africa have now decided that international competitions will be impossible for the rest of 2020, with Rugby Afrique saying that they hope to “restart continent-wide competitions in 2021 if possible”, although they hope that some cross-border matches might be possible before that.

As well as a set-back for countries from the two continents preparing for the 2021 World Cup, it adds to the growing problems faced by those organising the tournament, which is due to take place in September next year.

For South Africa (who have already qualified by winning last year’s Africa Cup) and Kenya (who face a qualifier against Colombia) this year’s Africa Cup was to be a vital part of their preparations.

Meanwhile in Asia, for Japan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan it is possibly even more of a set-back as the 2020 Asian Championship was meant to be their qualifier, with the winner going to New Zealand while the runner-up was to be awarded with a place in the world repechage.

13 teams are still involved in a growing pile-up of qualification tournaments that need to be completed before the World Cup.

·       Two tournaments in Europe. First the European Cup has to be completed, after which the winner of that tournament is meant to playoff against Ireland, Scotland and Italy, with the latter tournament probably not possible now until after the 2021 Six Nations. The winner qualifies for the World Cup, the runner-up for the repechage

·       An Asian qualifier, involving Japan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan. As with Europe, the winner goes to New Zealand, the runner-up to the repechage.

·       An Oceania repechage play-off between Tonga and Samoa

·       An international repechage play-off between Colombia and Kenya

Only once all of these have been completed:

·       A four-team repechage tournament, venue to be announced, for which currently no teams have qualified.

All of these competitions obviously need to be completed before September – and almost certainly earlier than that because of the small distraction of the sevens tournament at the Olympic Games in Japan, which will definitely involve players from Japan and Kenya, and possibly other nations involved in the qualification process.

And to add further a complication, the repechage for the Olympics also has to be squeezed in somehow, somewhere.

Finally, of course, almost all of the players involved in this process are amateurs, which means that the various processes by which it is hoped to restart professional men’s rugby – perhaps as early as this autumn – are not going to be applicable.