England’s three-match Ashes series with Australia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Rugby Football League and its Australian counterparts announced the news on Monday morning, as both bodies focus on completing their domestic club competitions. The games had been due to take place in England in October and November, with the competition being revived after a 17-year absence. Talks have already begun about a series in 2022, with the World Cup taking place next year.
Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s chief executive, said: “We make this announcement with great reluctance and disappointment, as we had been looking forward so much to welcoming the Kangaroos for the revival of the Ashes in 2020 – and the prospect of the series had captured the imagination of our players, broadcast and commercial partners, supporters and media alike. However the current circumstances have had a seismic impact on rugby league, as on all other sports, and we all now need to give in order to find solutions for the greater and longer term good of the game.
“After regular discussions with the ARLC (Australian Rugby League Commission) over the last few months, combined with those within our domestic competitions, we have concluded that the right thing to do for the game as a whole is to make this decision now. It will have a considerable impact on the finances of rugby league here in England, as we were banking on a significant boost from Australia’s first full tour since 2003. But as I have said regularly to all parts of the game since the seriousness of the situation became clear, we are all going to have to make sacrifices, and financial adjustments – and we should stress again our gratitude to the government for the significant support they provided at the start of May, which will help us to deal with this major setback.”
The support Rimmer referred to was a £16m emergency loan provided to the RFL which will then be split among clubs, who can apply for a slice of the cash to sustain them.
“We remain committed to a worthwhile international calendar for our senior England teams to build on the legacy that next year’s World Cup will create and the Ashes would be a fantastic part of any meaningful international calendar in the future. We have already indicated to the ARLC that we would be keen to welcome them for a three-Test series at any time in the future and will now work together to make this happen as soon as possible.”
Super League clubs are yet to finalise plans to restart the 2020 season, but could return in the middle of August. The league has also set a target of playing in front of fans again as soon as October. No games have been played since 15 March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed return date of 16 August is seen as crucial to minimise any rebate due to Sky Sports, which holds broadcast rights through to the end of the 2021 campaign.