ST HELENS could be at the heart of a ‘celebration of sport’ when the 2021 Rugby League World Cup rolls into town.

That is how the tournament’s women’s ambassador, Saints' Jodie Cunningham, is looking upon next year’s global tournament that will see three group games played at the Totally Wicked Stadium Stadium and both the Tonga and Italy men’s teams based in the town.

Cunningham, an England Women international since 2009 who is also the full-time community engagement lead for next year’s 36-day tournament across England, feels the World Cup will be positioned to step out of this year’s devastating coronavirus pandemic and cap a string of major live events.

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup (October 23 to November 27) will come hot on the heels of UEFA Euro 2021 next June and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (July to September) – all a far cry from months of live sport being cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has resulted in excess of 430,000 deaths across the globe.

“Naturally the current situation with coronavirus has affected every aspect of everyone’s life, whether that’s personal or business,” said Cunningham.

“The safety and wellbeing of people and the nation is obviously paramount, but we’re fortunate in that the tournament is at the back end of 2021 and so we’ve got time.

“As much as the current situation is in our thoughts and playing a part in some of the timelines for projects that we’re putting out, we’re just adapting to how the environment is at the minute and making the most of the opportunities that we can take.

“Yes, coronavirus is affecting things, and it forms a lot of the contingency planning that we’ve got and the risk and readiness, but we’re definitely in a good place.

“I’m confident next year will be a celebration of sport because we’ve all missed live sport so much over this time. I know I have.

“I knew I loved sport anyway, but having it taken away for so long has definitely made me appreciate it even more whether that be playing or watching sport.

“So I think having the multiple sporting events that we will have next year will just allow everybody to really celebrate sport and what they love about it and how much it brings.

“Sport is about much more than just staying physically fit, it brings so much to so many people and next year will be a great chance to celebrate that.”

Last week’s announcement of RLWC2021 host cities and towns was an example of how the team organising the tournament are doing things differently than they might have done.

“It was done as a virtual event with videos released online and coordinated throughout our host towns and cities,” said Cunningham, who worked in the accounts department of Village Hotels before taking on her World Cup roles.

“The original plans for that would have had more of a face-to-face element to it but I think it worked perfectly.

“We’re probably exposing ourselves to different ways of doing things that are possibly better than before.

“When you’ve got to do things differently you often find really great ways of doing it and we want to be bold and brave in everything that we do.

“For this to be the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup there’s ever been, we have to do things differently.”

The fixtures to take place at the confirmed venues are expected next month, while ticket sales are likely to commence later in the year.