Qatar has joined a growing list of nations that have expressed interest in becoming replacement hosts for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) after France’s sudden withdrawal.

The organizing committee of France 2025 announced on Monday (May 15) that the country would no longer host the national team competitions after failing to meet financial criteria set out by the French government, leaving the event at risk of making a loss.

The men’s, women’s, wheelchair, and youth World Cups were all due to be held simultaneously in France. The country is also set to host the 2023 men's rugby union World Cup later this year.

The board of the International Rugby League (IRL) global governing body held an emergency meeting today (May 17) to discuss alternatives for the 2025 RLWC, including finding a new host, postponing the event until 2026, or canceling the event altogether.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, IRL chair Troy Grant said four nations had already expressed an interest in taking over from France, including Qatar, South Africa, and Fiji.

New Zealand yesterday announced its interest in co-hosting the event alongside Australia, with the pair having previously co-hosted the 2017 edition.

Grant said: “We’ll be guiding each expression of interest to our committee and all those and any options will be presented, and proper due diligence will be done. But the reality is the size of the tournament will have a bearing on what we do.

“There’s potential to move it out of this cycle and create a new cycle. Everything is a possibility at this stage. All options are on the table as we understand that time is running out and we need to move quickly.”

The bid will add to Qatar’s growing interest in sports after hosting the men’s FIFA World Cup soccer tournament last year. As well as owning French soccer giants Paris Saint-Germain through its shareholding organization Qatar Sports Investment, Qatari billionaire Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani is bidding to purchase England’s Manchester United.

The Gulf state is also due to stage next year’s under-19 Asian Cup, as well as the 2030 Asian Games.

Of Qatar’s bid, Grant said: “The attractiveness of Qatar would be in their financial capability to meet the costs of a tournament of our size and scale. Their stadia are first-class and that has been proven with the FIFA World Cup having recently been held there successfully.

“The close proximity of stadia and the less travel required, even compared to the World Cup in England, for example, would be massively advantageous regarding cost.”

However, the kingdom’s high temperatures in October and November, when the tournament is due to be held, could be problematic for its bid.

Responding to a question on the country’s viability as a host, Grant said: “I haven’t looked at the temperatures there but ours [tournament] would be slightly earlier than the football so seasonal conditions would be tough, I’d imagine.

“There’s the kind of factors we need to consider. We’ve no due diligence to give any expression of interest their due course of credit. We haven’t made any assessment in regards to the viability of them.”

If successful, the new hosting nation/s will be the third to be awarded the rights for the 2025 edition. France was named after the original co-hosts, the US and Canada, withdrew in 2018, ending the IRL’s plans to take the tournament out of Europe and Oceania for the first time.

The last RLWC, hosted by England, was also postponed to 2022 after Australia and New Zealand withdrew from playing it in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.

That edition saw the men’s, women’s, and wheelchair tournaments run alongside each other for the first time. France 2025 was also due to stage all three tournaments, as well as the youth tournament. Grant admitted if the tournament goes ahead in 2025, it will be difficult to simultaneously stage all events.

He said: “The uniqueness of three World Cups being run at the same time was something that drew record investment.

“We’re the only sport that’s conducted our World Cup format like that and it stood us aside from other sports. It’s a massive selling point, so to abandon that strategy would be disappointing, but we have to be practical in any decisions we make going forward.”

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