Postponing the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa until 2022 is the most credible contingency if the series could not proceed with crowd attendance, writes DYLAN JACK.
It’s something South African fans have desperately been avoiding to think about, but the reality is that the second coronavirus wave currently looks set to have an unavoidable impact on the 2021 series.
The old adage in sport is that things can change very quickly over a few months, but the logistics involved in either moving, cancelling or postponing the tour mean that a decision will have to be taken sooner rather than later.
There is plenty riding on the tour, especially for SA Rugby, who know the value of hosting this high-profile marquee event. In the current Covid-19-affected environment, it’s a tour of particularly immense value.
That’s without mentioning that the Springboks have not been in action since the 2019 World Cup final after it was decided to withdraw from the Australia-hosted Rugby Championship, with a view to ensuring that players are at peak fitness for the Lions tour.
‘We are obviously looking at a number of different contingencies around what happens if Covid continues in the way that it currently does,’ SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux told the South African media back in August last year. ‘Obviously, first prize is that that doesn’t happen. Second prize is that there are some restrictions and we can manage in those restrictions.
‘To be fair, no spectators and an inability for people to travel would commercially not make this viable and there would be a serious reconsideration on how we then continue in terms of the tour.’
As far as contingencies go, it is clear that with so much riding on it, cancelling the tour is just not an option SA Rugby could afford at this stage.
Another interesting suggestion which has gained a bit of traction is to instead see the Springboks tour the United Kingdom in July, with warm-up fixtures against Japan and PRO14 title-holders Leinster before the three-Test series against the Lions in London, Cardiff and Dublin.
If spectators are allowed back in stadiums in the northern hemisphere by then, this is certainly a suggestion which has legs, especially considering the large South African expat community currently residing in the UK.
It has also been proposed that the Lions instead return to either New Zealand or Australia, who have both recently been able to welcome crowds back to their respective stadiums. This would, however, mean that the invitational team could only return to South Africa in 2032, if the current rotational policy is abided by.
First prize has to be keeping the tour in South Africa. As the Springboks are the current World Cup holders, a series against the British & Irish Lions would hold more intrigue than any other. Given how difficult 2020 was for South Africa, the country needs something to look forward to and travelling fans from the UK will undoubtedly boost the country’s tourism sector.
That is why when a decision has to be made, the thought should be around postponing the tour until it is safe for fans to travel to South Africa.
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