The organisers of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup are to give 20,021 tickets to health and social care workers to recognise their efforts in fighting the coronvavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Jon Dutton made the announcement at an online press conference held at the same time as Thursday evening’s nationwide applause for the NHS staff.

Wales’ men’s team will take on Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands in the group stages after qualifying early in 2018, whilst our Wheelchair side will take on France, Scotland, and the USA, who they will meet for the very first time in our history in this version of the sport.

RLWC2021 was due to announce plans for ticket sales to begin in the summer, however following the outbreak, the team and the board have collectively agreed a new timeline, allowing for flexibility around dates due to the uncertainty of global events.

In addition, as a thank you, we have also revealed that 20,021 free tickets will be made available to those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors critical to the COVID-19 response.

Firstly, 10 June 2020 will see the tournament celebrate 500 days to go until the opening fixture on 23 October 2021, at St James’ Park, Newcastle, where the England men’s team will take on Samoa. The team-bases for the 21 nations involved in the three competitions will be revealed, in addition to a new tournament identity being made public.

Between this point and September, we will detail the schedules for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, plus the announcement of ticket tiers and prices. Due to the current global situation it has been decided not to put a date on these.

In September, we will go on pre-sale to two groups – the rugby league family and corporate partners in group one and Host cities and venues, those residents within host cities and on venue databases in group two. This small window of opportunity will allow these set groups to purchase tickets before anyone else. Fans are encouraged to sign up to ensure they are the first to receive news on tickets and timings.

With one year to go on 23 October 2020, for the first time in the tournament’s history, a public ballot will open. Anyone will be able to request tickets for as many individual fixtures as they wish until 27 November 2020.

December 2020 will see fans receive the results of the public ballot and tickets will then go on general sale in early 2021.

Jon Dutton, Chief Executive of RLWC2021, said: “Other sports, clubs, leagues and events have been acutely impacted by COVID-19 and our planning needs to be aligned and proportionate with the global crisis and respectful of more immediate needs. We have done various aspects of scenario planning and we believe the current plan is the most suitable at this point, however we know we are required to be flexible and adapt as and when appropriate.

“The team has made the unanimous decision to provide 20,021 free tickets to keyworkers in the UK as our way of saying thank you. The work, effort, dedication and sheer determination needs to be recognised and hopefully we can provide these local heroes and their families with something to look forward to next year.”

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