British and Irish lions’ tour to South Africa is BACK and organizers are plowing ahead with games likely behind closed doors despite fears of the Covid variant after government refuses to return financially
- The British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa continues this summer
- The lions will travel to South Africa despite an expected third wave
- Plans to organize the tour in the UK and Ireland were rejected due to charges
- Discussions are underway with South Africa because of concerns that it will not be financially viable
The British and Irish Lions tour will continue in South Africa this summer after plans were dropped to ramp up the series in the UK.
The board made a dramatic turnaround on Tuesday, announcing plans to travel to the southern hemisphere in late June – even if fans are not allowed to enter the stadiums.
Plans to play the games in South Africa appeared dead due to Covid issues, with detailed contingency plans for a UK-based series. However, the board was forced to change its mind when the British government refused to endorse the financial risk of extensive crowd restrictions.
The British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa takes place behind closed doors this summer
The Lions will travel to South Africa despite an expected third wave of coronavirus
South Africa is lagging behind the UK in the rollout of vaccines, so there will be strict Covid protocols and changes to the location of the original itinerary could still take place.
Bill Sweeney, board member of Lions and CEO of RFU, said on Tuesday evening, “It’s been a great 12 months and it’s nice to have a little certainty about things in an incredibly volatile and uncertain world.
‘It has always been preferable to be able to honor the tour in South Africa and let it go ahead. You would always want it to be with crowds instead of behind closed doors because that would be a different environment.
But things change quickly. Who knows? Could we get busy there? If so, we’ll all look back on this and say ‘that was a terrible time to go through, (but) we’ve come to the right place’.
The Lions board has rejected plans to relocate in the UK and Ireland due to financial concerns
‘We are trying to get clarity. What is the tour schedule – is it as originally planned or does it need to be adjusted due to Covid in South Africa? What are the facilities around the players? It will have to be a tour where the welfare of the player comes first. ‘
Several scenarios have been proposed before the board finally came to a conclusion on Tuesday.
Rugby Australia had offered to host the tour and there were also discussions about postponing the series to 2022.
“I think the UK could have been a very, very good fallback option,” Sweeney said.
The idea of the world champions coming here after Covid to kick-start the game in the UK – it would hopefully have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Lions play home soil. You can imagine seas of red with T-shirts and polo shirts.
As the UK government appears unwilling to reimburse the costs, plans have changed
That said, it wouldn’t have been an overseas tour and from the traditionalists standpoint … it’s not the same as going to South Africa and having all that that means in terms of the player experience and the special camaraderie of touring. ‘
In a statement from Lions, Chairman Jason Leonard said: “ After reviewing information related to the emergency scenarios, I can confirm that the intended position of the board is for the tour to go ahead as planned in South Africa in 2021.
We recognize that there is still a significant amount of work to be done … to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour. SA Rugby has our full support. ‘