Lions 'yes' to tour in SA despite some crowd and date uncertainties

Lions 'yes' to tour in SA despite some crowd and date uncertainties

In what was an extremely pleasant surprise, a joint statement from the British and Irish Lions on Tuesday confirmed that South Africa Rugby still planned to host the British and Irish Lions this year, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement said that the two parties were “aligned on delivering the Lions Series in South Africa in the scheduled playing window”.

All eight the original tour matches will be played as originally scheduled although the initial dates, despite the statement, may be adjusted to conform to all safety measures.

Lions chairman Jason Leonard said: “After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the [Lions] board’s intended position is for the tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021.”

The former England prop added: “We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 counter-measure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour.

“SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”

It is not yet known, however, if travelling Lions fans, a key component of the vibrant atmosphere at matches and a major source of revenue for the host nation, will be allowed to attend games.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander thanked the Lions, saying: “We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour.

“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations.”

It is not yet known, however, if travelling Lions fans, a key component of the vibrant atmosphere at matches and a major source of revenue for the host nation, will be allowed to attend games.

▲ The Lions are scheduled to play a warm-up match against Japan in Edinburgh on June 26.

An eight-game tour then features three Tests, with internationals in Johannesburg on July 24 and August 7 either side of a July 31 clash in Cape Town.

Alexander, however, said the dates could yet be changed.

“We are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners,” he added.

The possibility of postponing the tour until 2022 was not seriously considered as it would have clashed with too many top-class internationals elsewhere, costing the participants such as the All Blacks and Ireland who are due to tour New Zealand in 2022, too much in lost revenue.

▲ The Rugby Football Union, according to The Telegraph, has also given its support to South African as host.

“If it is possible, the RFU is supportive of the Lions tour going ahead in South Africa as planned,” an RFU spokesperson told the newspaper.

There had been reports that the UK government was prepared to underwrite the costs but it is understood that no financial guarantee has been offered.