WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's government remains committed to hosting the next women's Rugby World Cup even if it is postponed until 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Wednesday.
World Rugby said on Tuesday it would be recommending that the ninth edition of the tournament, scheduled to take place in New Zealand from Sept. 18 to Oct. 16, should be pushed back by a year.
The final decision will be made at World Rugby meetings next week and, while disappointed at the expected outcome, Robertson said he understood the reasoning behind it.
"We all wanted the tournament to go ahead as planned this year, but we also accept that the current COVID-19 constrained circumstances are not ideal for high performance athletes in a tournament situation," the minister said in a statement.
"Ultimately this is a decision for World Rugby to make. If they do postpone we are fully committed to hosting the event next year.
"The government is supporting NZ Rugby's hosting of the tournament with financial contributions through the Major Events Development Fund and Sport New Zealand. That support will remain in place for 2022."
New Zealand's Black Ferns have won five of the eight previous editions of the tournament and were preparing to defend their title against 11 other nations, including neighbours Australia.
Rugby Australia said it accepted World Rugby's decision to recommend the postponement of the first women's World Cup to be held in the southern hemisphere.
"It's disappointing news for both our team and the wider Rugby community," Rugby Australia's Jilly Collins said in a statement.
"Ultimately, safety must be the number one priority. Furthermore, a tournament needs to be delivered that is fitting of the pinnacle event in the Women's Rugby XVs calendar with all teams as best prepared as possible."
New Zealand has been one of the most successful nations in the world at containing COVID-19 but small outbreaks of the virus have triggered two snap lockdowns in Auckland over the last month.Auckland's 44,000-seater Eden Park stadium was scheduled to host an opening day triple-header as well as the semi-finals and final of the tournament.
New Zealand is also hosting the next edition of the women's cricket World Cup in March and April next year after that tournament was postponed from 2021 because of the global health crisis.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon, Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Toby Davis)