15 Mar 2024


International Rugby League will assist Ireland, Italy, Lebanon and Scotland to grow the game domestically after the four nations, along with Russia, were reclassified as Affiliate Members.  

A meeting of full members on March 14 agreed on significant changes to the classification of nations whose governing bodies have been non-compliant with the terms of the IRL membership policy for up to five years.  

Russia’s Association of Rugby League Clubs was already suspended from international competition.  

Lebanon’s place at the 2026 World Cup is not affected by the decision as the Cedars had already qualified after reaching the quarter-final stage of RLWC2021, which was staged in England in 2022.  

However, Ireland, Italy and Scotland are ineligible to participate in qualifiers for the IRL Men’s Rugby League World Cup 2026, which will be staged in the Southern Hemisphere.  

Details of the qualifying tournaments for the men’s World Cup will be ratified by the IRL Board at next month’s meeting in Singapore, following the expiration of the world cup eligibility deadline agreed last year.  

Federazione Italiana Rugby League, the Lebanese Rugby League Federation, Rugby League Ireland and Scotland Rugby League will each receive a parachute payment to invest in areas of non-compliance.  

They can re-apply for full membership when their Board deems them ready to do so.  

IRL Secretary -General Danny Kazandjian said other nations had applied to become full members.  

“IRL currently has five good quality full member applications under evaluation and there are likely to be at least another two later this year,” he said.  

“We work continuously with member federations to improve their operations and governance, and we are seeing standards increase on and off the field. Over a long arc, ensuring compliance with IRL’s regulatory framework will result in a bigger, more durable, more prolific sport.  

“In many of our members, the most reliable sign of growth is producing more registered rugby league players who play in organised 13-a-side championships, usually for rugby league clubs that are themselves members of their own national federation. Our focus is most certainly on that critical local growth.” 

Rugby League Ireland Chairman Jim Reynolds said his organisation was already taking steps aimed at quickly regaining full membership.

"RLI thanks both IRL and ERL for recognising the significant transformation we have achieved since COVID in addressing the non-compliance issues that have been raised with RLI for the last ten years," he said.

"We have worked hard to exceed the standards in good governance and with our youth groups becoming one year older, they will now also qualify to allow us regain full IRL membership status this year end."

In other changes, Asociacion Espanola de RL (Spain) was reclassified as an Observer Member.   

The national federations for Belgium, Denmark, Ethiopia, Latvia, Saudi Arabia and Trinidad & Tobago are all expelled from the company following several years of inactivity.

The reclassification of nations follows the introduction of the current member policy in 2019, which initially allowed for a two-year transition period to allow members time to adjust to the new policy.   

Covid then delayed compliance deadlines and every nation was afforded a Covid-free two-year corrective action period following non-compliant status.

IRL members are audited each year against the membership policy, with non-compliant full member nations continuing to receive grant funding to invest in areas of deficiency.  

Kazandjian continued: “The current membership policy was designed to produce stable, productive federations of increasing capacity.  

“Unfortunately, some national federations who were non-compliant with the previous policy have been unable to adjust to the participatory provisions of the current policy and must now reorganise.  

“We will continue to work with them to re-apply for full membership when their own Boards feel they are eligible.” 

IRL earlier announced that Asociación Argentina de Rugby League had been granted Observer Member status.