The women’s World Cup is set to start earlier and run longer after officials announced an increase in turnaround times between matches to bring them closer to the standards for the men’s tournament.
A week after revealing that women and wheelchair players would receive prizemoney for the first time and be paid the same participation fee as their male counterparts at the 2021 World Cup, tournament organisers have introduced a minimum four-day turnaround for women’s teams.
International Rugby League officials are working towards extending the minimum turnaround time for women’s teams to five days at the following World Cup, the same as the men’s teams enjoy.
The change to the scheduling, which will mean the women’s World Cup kicks off on November 9 and ends at Old Trafford on November 28, follows extensive discussions between representatives of RLWC2021, the IRL, RLPA, national federations and individual players.
The Jillaroos are the favourites after maintaining their unbeaten Test record against the Kiwi Ferns since 2017 with Friday night’s 28-8 defeat in Wollongong, while England, France, Papua New Guinea, Canada, Cook Islands and Brazil are the other teams at RLWC2021.
“We have listened to and consulted every interested party over the last few months and we feel this is the best outcome for everyone, particularly the welfare of the athletes,” RLWC2021 CEO Jon Dutton said.
“It is important that we recognise the evolution of the women’s game and are at the forefront of leading the way on player welfare. We have received outstanding cooperation from our hosts, IRL, RLPA and nations and most importantly player representatives."
The original schedule, agreed upon in early 2018, maintained the three-day turnaround women’s teams endured at the 2017 World Cup in Australia but given the rapid development of international women’s rugby league the changes were introduced for pool matches.
Anfield will still host the marquee women’s and men’s double header on November 13, with York the venue for the women’s semi-finals.
While five day turnarounds will be considered for future World Cups, there were concerns many players in the eight RLWC2021 women’s teams would need to take time off work or study to play so officials were reluctant to significantly extend the tournament.
Jillaroos coach Brad Donald welcomed the changes.
"It’s a really important change," Donald said. "When we first saw it we thought it might have been even lesser days to what we had in 2017.
"We were a bit disappointed but one of the great things is there was time to assess feedback and someone has realised we need to get somewhere closer to what the men are doing.
"We’re not professional yet, these girls work hard so it’s a Catch 22 between getting the turnarounds right and juggling life commitments because now the girls will have to get some extra time off."
Donald said the scheduling changes would ensure the quality of matches at the women's World Cup would be better than at the 2017 tournament.
"It was a different landscape back then, we were putting on camps for the girls in preparing for the World Cup from 2016," he said. "We had a big squad and played a semi-final with players who we knew weren’t going to play in the final.
"We had a good system in place but now with better turnarounds and if we keep everyone healthy we wouldn’t have to do that and can select the best team for every game of the tournament."
IRL chief executive Nigel Wood said the scheduling changes were a further example of what is being achieved by international rugby league working together collaboratively.
“We received feedback around the original program and with a collective will on all sides, we have managed to provide a timetable that will ensure that the women’s tournament is an even more compelling spectacle.”
RLPA general manager of stakeholder relations Clint Newton said: “It’s refreshing when you identify shared objectives and work through a process in a genuinely collaboratively way to secure positive outcomes for the players, fans and the international game.
“With improved minimum standards and conditions, and increased turnaround times between matches, RLWC2021 is shaping up to be the best in women’s rugby league history.”