Major Rugby League tours are to be restored to the international fixture calendar.

The delegates of the RLIF who met in London on Thursday and Friday, including a ground-breaking session at Rugby Union headquarters at Twickenham, ratified proposals to restore Kangaroo and Kiwi tours to Europe and return trips by the Lions Down Under.

They also agreed in principle a five-year package of international fixtures that would see the next World Cup being staged in 2004. This would enable the global tournament to adopt a four-year cycle but a decision on where the tournament is to be staged has been deferred for at least 12 months to allow business plans to be constructed.

RLIF chairman John McDonald from Australia said: ‘The Federation was very keen to restore the four-year tour sequence to the international calendar. There has been a growing feeling within the sport as well as from the fans that it was desirable to return to tours the traditional programme.

‘We believe that everybody with the game at heart will be pleased with this decision.

‘The Federation also wanted a little more time to think about where to stage the next World Cup. This would give us time to consider all the options available to us.’

The Australians will stage their first tour of Great Britain since 1994 in 2001 and they will be followed across the world by New Zealand in 2002.Great Britain will tour Down Under for a one-off Test in mid-2003.

France are to undertake a 50th anniversary tour of New Zealand in 2001 while South Africa’s increasing importance as an international Rugby League nation has been recognised with inbound tours by the French in 2001 and the New Zealand Maori in 2004.

Added Mr McDonald: ‘The RLIF has decided in principle when the tours will take place but a great deal of detailed fixture planning still has to be undertaken by the member nations.

‘At least we are now able to put the game’s international difficulties of the 1990s behind us and look forward to an exciting global programme.’

Plans for World Seven or Nine-a-side tournaments, Pacific-Oceania Cups, European Championships through to 2005 were tabled and the programme will be forwarded to member nations for discussion. Once they have had a chance to check the international fixture blueprint against their domestic game templates the five-year programme is due for ratification at the Federation’s next meeting in January.

The Federation have approved the appointment of two international development officers. One of the two full-time appointments will be responsible for the sport’s activities in the northern hemisphere while the other will be responsible for the southern hemisphere.

Mr McDonald said: ‘The Federation believes that if the sport is to continue developing in a structured and controlled fashion it is essential that we have staff in place to manage situation.

‘Now that 22 nations play Rugby League we have greater global responsibilities and the two appointments is a positive reaction to that growth and development.’

Rugby League will decide following the Lincoln Financial Group World Cup whether to adopt a new law on substitutions.

Currently the International Laws say that there are unlimited replacements allowed from four substitutions but for the World Cup competition 12 replacements, including blood bin substitutions, will be in operation. It will be monitored by the Federation during the tournament.

He added: ‘The delegates wanted the opportunity to see the new system in operation before making a decision whether to adopt the 12 from four principle as a new international law.

‘The nations will have the opportunity to debate the situation fully before the next full meeting of the International Federation’

The Federation granted the newly-constituted Rugby League Ireland 2000 affiliate membership. Their formal nomination was backed by the Rugby Football League the new body in the Republic of Ireland now joins New Zealand Maori, the USA, Japan, Morocco and the British Amateur Rugby League Association as affiliate members at the international table.

RFL chairman Sir Rodney Walker said: ‘The development of the sport in Ireland has reached a position where such recognition was deserved and necessary. We now look forward to seeing the sport grow in strength and popularity in the Republic of Ireland.’