The Rugby League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, emerged from what must have been a fraught meeting with his Australian opposite number, Ken Arthurson, in Sydney yesterday to announce that the World Cup will go ahead as planned.
There had been fears for the tournament, scheduled to be the biggest gathering of league-playing nations in the code's history, since Lindsay and the British Rugby League opted to accept a £77m deal with Rupert Murdoch and his News Limited organisation in return for setting up a European Super League.
Arthurson and the Australian Rugby League are still locked in a struggle with Murdoch for control of the game there and the British action could hardly avoid being seen as a betrayal.
But Lindsay said yesterday that the World Cup will take place, with an Australian team defending its world championship. "We have agreed that Australia will participate in the World Cup and there is no threat to the World Cup," he said.
It remains to be seen quite what the make-up of the Australian team will be. Players there are split down the middle, with most of the Test-class players joining Super League.
After next year, Great Britain will only play against Australian representative teams drawn from Super League players, one of the aspects of the deal with Murdoch that has raised the most alarm. "Considering our financial benefits, we have to give something back," said Lindsay to explain that concession.
There is no doubt that Australia could wreck the World Cup, if they wanted to. Apart from pulling the plug on an official entry from their own country, they could also bring influence to bear on Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Western Samoa and South Africa, in all of which rugby league is financially supported by Australia.
The Super League chief executive, John Ribot, has outlined how the play- off system will work between the top four sides in the two countries. The first and fourth-placed sides in the southern hemisphere will play a double-header against European opposition at Wembley, while the first and fourth from Europe will play Australian sides in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. No decision has yet been made on the venue for the final.Reuse content