Lions tour in SA needs limited fan concession

Stadiums at even quarter capacity would provide at least a semblance of much-needed atmosphere for the Boks’ series against the British & Irish Lions, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

After an inordinate number of meetings mulling over how, when and if the Lions tour will go ahead, we finally received an answer this week.

But, rather surprisingly, after all was said and done, the tour is set to proceed as originally planned in South Africa.

It was a change of direction that caught many off guard simply because most signs over the last few months indicated an increasing likelihood that the series would switch to the northern hemisphere.

A provisional ‘UK’ schedule that did the rounds on social media, and was believed to have some substance to it, only added to a sentiment of acceptance that the Boks would strangely have to travel for a ‘home’ tour.

Yet, with time running out, a decision was needed. Assurances were made, and a swift about-turn will now see South Africa welcome the traditional touring team to these shores.

READ: Government to assist with Lions tour logistics

There are still a variety of logistics that will need some expert navigation. From bio bubbles, to potential schedule adjustments, to negotiations around possible fan attendance.

It’s the latter point which will be of particular interest, especially for those who emerged as winners in the ticket ballot.

Back then, many would have been holding onto a glimmer of hope that the Covid-19 pandemic may be a thing of the past by the middle of 2021, and that stadiums could be packed out again.

Unfortunately that remains well outside the realms of possibility at the present moment, with the recent Preparation Series still played behind closed doors even at a time when South Africa has moved back down to level one restrictions.

Yet, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander has emphatically stated that he will continue to plea to government in the hope of opening up at least some concession for fan attendance during the Lions tour.

‘The series will help to get our economy back on track and help the tourism industry overcome some of the negative effects of the pandemic, and hopefully avoid any more layoffs in that sector,’ he was recently quoted as saying. ‘The series would have a R6.6-billion economic impact on the country. All sectors must help to get the economy back on track.’

Of course, any possibility of opening up the turnstiles at stadiums would depend on the status of the pandemic in South Africa at that time. However, should the tour coincide with a period where South Africa is still at level one, then surely government authorities would be hard pressed to justify keeping the tour behind closed doors.

As it is, there is a cruel sense of irony that you can watch a TV broadcast of a live match (played at an empty stadium), all the while sitting in a restaurant or pub surrounded by people.

Certainly without taking a serious situation lightly, the contradictions remain perplexing.

While certain venues under level one restrictions must not exceed 50% of its normal capacity, I’d venture that most tour venues would simply be satisfied if they could see 25% of their stadium capacity allowed.

Surely it would not be unreasonable to allow for a limited number of tickets to be made available to the public, while ensuring the allocation allows for a select few to be spread out across South Africa’s massive open-air stadiums with more than enough social distancing.

Those who were successful in the Lions ticket ballot could perhaps have the option of either receiving a refund or going into another ballot for the limited ticket capacity.

To allow the attendance of a few thousand fans would provide some semblance of ‘live’ support for the players, help boost the local tourism and hospitality industries, while offering at least an element of atmosphere that would so sorely be missed during such an iconic tour.

ALSO READ: SA economy to take a hit if Lions tour played behind closed doors

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Craig Lewis