Qatar has emerged as a surprise contender 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 express an interest in staging the event, along with New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa.
The International Rugby League (IRL) governing body is scrambling to preserve the tournament, which could still be delayed or scrapped altogether, after French organisers admitted they were unable to meet financial guarantees demanded by the French government.
IRL chairman Troy Grant confirmed: “We have received expressions of interest from New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Qatar already.
“We are yet to make any assessments in regarded 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 World Cup. How real or viable any or all of those options are, we’re yet to make any of those assessments.”
The Qatari interest, which Grant said comprises two approaches combining state and public funding, continues the nation’s interest in muscling in on the global sporting landscape following a successful soccer World Cup last year.
And although unlikely, its offer may fit the expansionist policies of a sport that broke new ground when Toronto Wolfpack were accepted as the first transatlantic members of the English rugby league set-up in 2017.
New Zealand remain the obvious front-runners to step in to stage the tournament, but Grant acknowledged that tough decisions may need to be made given 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 comprised men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, will remain viable at short notice.
“We understand that we need to move quickly,” added Grant. “It will certainly have a big bearing on where the tournament is in 2025, if it proceeds.
“There is a potential option to move out of this cycle and create a new cycle, and that will also be a discussion point for the board in June and July.
“We are not wedded to anything, to be honest. The experience of England last year was that the uniqueness of our offering, with the three World Cups being run at the same time, was a massive point of difference.
“It is 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.
“It gets us to rethink how we do everything going forward. There’s a unique opportunity that this adversity presents, and I think we should take that opportunity.”