Qatar has emerged as a surprise candidate to host the 2025 Rugby League World Cup after France relinquished hosting rights.
The Gulf nation, which does not have a team or a world ranking and has never played an international match, is one of four countries to have expressed an interest in hosting the event, along with New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.
The International Rugby League (IRL) governing body is fighting to keep the tournament, which could still be delayed or scrapped altogether, after French organizers admitted they were unable to meet the financial guarantees demanded by the French government.
IRL chairman Troy Grant confirmed: “We have already received expressions of interest from New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Qatar.
“We have yet to make any judgments as to their viability, I’m just being honest about who has reached out.
“It gives me comfort that there is interest in our sport and our WC. How real or viable any or all of these possibilities are, we have yet to make any of these assessments.”
The Qatari interest, which Grant said includes two approaches that combine state and public funding, continues the nation’s interest in moving into the global sports landscape after a successful soccer World Cup last year.
And while unlikely, its offer could fit the expansionist policy of a sport that broke new ground when the Toronto Wolfpack were accepted as the first transatlantic members of England’s rugby league setup in 2017.
New Zealand remain the clear front-runners to step in to host the tournament, but Grant acknowledged that tough decisions may have to be made due to the limited time frame for establishing new hosts.
They include postponement to a later date or outright cancellation, while there are also concerns about whether the current unique format, which included men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, will remain viable at short notice.
“We understand that we have to move quickly,” Grant added. “It will certainly have a big impact on where the tournament is in 2025 if it continues.
“There is a potential opportunity to move out of this cycle and create a new cycle, and that will also be a point of discussion for the board in June and July.
“We’re not married to anything, to be honest. The experience from England last year was that the uniqueness of our offer, having the three World Cups at the same time, was a huge difference.
“It’s a massive selling point, so to abandon that strategy would be disappointing, but we have to be practical in any decision we make going forward.
“It makes us rethink how we do everything going forward. There is a unique opportunity that this adversity presents, and I think we should seize that opportunity.”