World Rugby seems poised to postpone the Women's World Cup, scheduled for New Zealand later this year, for 12 months.
The recommendation to delay the tournament until 2022, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be considered by the Rugby World Cup board and World Rugby executive committee next week.
"We appreciate the decision to recommend the postponement of the Rugby World Cup 2021 will be hugely disappointing to the players and fans alike," says World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin.
"We really believe it is the right recommendation, taking into account the best interests of players and fans - certainly, this decision has the players at heart.
"In recent weeks, through discussions with our key partners in New Zealand Rugby and the NZ Government, it's become clear we do not have the level of certainty we need to be able to collective deliver the best environment for all teams to be at their best.
"Rugby World Cup 2021 is the pinnacle of women's rugby and we're committed to providing the best conditions for players and teams to prepare fully, and be at their best in the tournament."
Gilpin insists the postponement will provide the best opportunity for teams to prepare safely, both before and after reaching New Zealand, given current global travel restrictions.
"Further recent cases around the world and New Zealand highlight the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing potential to disrupt our plans.
"We want this tournament to be all it can be - that's why we believe this recommendation is right and we can assure all players and all New Zealanders that we give everything to ensure the best-ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year, and to reward their patience and dedication."
The event is currently scheduled for September/October in Whangārei and Auckland, with the champion Black Ferns due to face Australia in their September 18 opener at Eden Park.
Sport & Recreation Minister Grant Robertson insists the Government remains committed to staging the tournament in New Zealand.
"We all wanted the tournament to go ahead as planned this year," he says. "But we also accept that the current COVID-19 constrained circumstances are not ideal for high performance athletes in a tournament situation.
"Also, preparation for the tournament in many countries has been limited and some qualifying matches have not been able to be played. This means that many athletes in other countries will not be getting the training or the game-time they need in the lead-up to this major tournament.
"Ultimately, this is a decision for World Rugby to make. If they do postpone, we are fully committed to hosting the event next year."
Further updates will follow the respective World Cup and World Rugby meetings on March 8 & 9.