The British & Irish Lions Series scheduled to take place this July is unlikely to be postponed, but the possibility of a UK and Ireland based ‘tour’ has not yet been precluded.
A Lions source told the Telegraph that ‘postponement is now looking very difficult to deliver’ owing to the challenges of shifting an already predetermined playing calendar.
Logistically it is understood that moving ahead with the tour to South Africa is the least problematic option, given that the venues, sponsors and broadcast deals are all in place. An SA-based series is also purportedly the preferred option for the Lions’ chief UK broadcast partner, Sky Sports.
‘Given the current lockdown, if the Lions are to play in the UK and Ireland, when could you even look at starting to market and sell tickets?’ said one source.
There is also the prevailing uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus and what government restrictions may be in place come July. The UK and Ireland are operating extensive inoculation programmes but it is unclear whether enough people will have been vaccinated by the time of the tour to permit the return of spectators.
‘It is difficult to see how this country [the UK] is going to have full venues in July so it is hard to plan for a home series. Behind closed doors is how sport is taking place right now.
‘The broadcast and sponsorship income will not be affected by a ‘behind closed doors’ tour of South Africa. Given all the disruption and uncertainty of the last year, there is a feeling it may be better to go ahead as planned and World Rugby could step in and help SARU financially.’
The broadcast deal is by far the biggest commercial partner and so even without fans the tour would generate a small profit for both the Lions and the South African Rugby Union.
The Lions board will meet on Friday but Telegraph sources suggest that every option is still on the table. It is purported that two home unions have thrown their support behind staging the tour in the UK and Ireland despite Covid uncertainty.
A decision is due to be made by mid-February and follows an intervention by the captains of all the home unions who have pledged to make the tour happen this year whatever the circumstances.