B&I Lions tour must be kept alive

Every option must be explored to keep the British & Irish Lions tour alive, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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I would like to start by wishing every reader the very best for 2021. After the year we had in 2020 it’s almost unimaginable that we could have a more uncertain and upside down 365 days again. If last year taught us one thing, it’s that nothing will ever be the same again in the way we see and do things.

Rugby is no different and for many involved in the game it’s been a very challenging year battling just to keep the doors of rugby franchises open and operational. I can’t think of a worse job in rugby right now than being a CEO of a franchise, or one of the big rugby organisations and regulatory bodies in the world.

Managing rugby as a global sport, competing with so many other sports, is difficult at the best of times, but last year presented extraordinary challenges, while this year could be even harder.

Every 12 years one of the most anticipated and traditional old-school rugby tours come along to South Africa. The bitter rivalry between the four home nations of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland is put aside and years of rugby ‘hatred’ and passion when facing one another is all combined when these teams form the British & Irish Lions.

Each of these four teams provide stiff opposition to the best rugby teams from the south when they play at home, but when they form the Lions, they are nothing short of formidable.

With Covid-19 threatening to disrupt the original schedule of the Lions tour to South Africa, there is also a threat to the general financial wellbeing of SA Rugby, the governing body for professional and, in fact, all rugby in South Africa.

With ticket and hospitality selling out in hours for this tour, even a good old-fashioned tight forward can work out the financial ramifications and disaster should this tour proceed without an expected 30 000 travelling Lions fans. Playing these games behind closed doors is simply not an option!

I always like to see the positives in all things in life. At this moment it’s very hard to do so if you think like so many of us traditional rugby people do, and I include myself in this.

I genuinely believe we should do everything possible to make this tour happen, one way or another, but I see a very slim chance of it happening in South Africa from July.

The possible options available would be to postpone the tour until later in the year. This will cut into the already congested rugby calendar going into 2022 and who knows if Covid would even allow us to do so then.

The other alternative is for the Boks to go to the United Kingdom where a vaccine for all is more likely and where games could be played in front of crowds experiencing top-class, traditional bone-crunching rugby.

Last year showed us that nothing will ever be the same again. To have the Lions tour take place in the United Kingdom might not be the way we have always done it. However, just because we have done something a certain way for so many years doesn’t necessarily mean we have done it the right way.

At the moment there is no right or wrong, just a desperate search for keeping the Lions 2021 tour alive and, quite simply, keeping rugby alive in South Africa.

*This column appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale

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