In a media release timed to give fans a 2021 South Africa tour update, no news was better than bad news (it seems).
The Lions are due to kick off an eight-match Tour in South Africa on July 3 and continue to review the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “As you would expect, we are progressing with our plans based on the latest information available to us,” said the British & Irish Lions managing director Ben Calveley.
Any definitive decision cannot be made at this time yet for the sake of planning and logistics, an update without any certainty has only increased suspicion and debate. The pros and cons; from observers, pundits, and fans in general.
Calveley went on to explain, “However, given the uncertainty that continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic both in South Africa, as well as the UK and Ireland, we are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.
“To date, the Lions Board has had repeated meetings to discuss all scenarios available and is in constant dialogue. It will meet throughout January and into February, if required, to review all relevant information and data. After further consultation with SA Rugby, we will update on the outcome of these meetings in due course.”
— Independent Sport (@IndoSport) January 3, 2021
2021 South Africa tour update: Board to review in January/February
In fact, the BIL (British and Irish Lions) administration will look to employ the diplomatic services, to have ‘eyes on the ground’. The implication being that “BIL staff continue regular discussion with our partners in the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including the British High Commission in Pretoria, the Irish Embassy and various government departments, to ascertain as much information as possible on this fast-evolving, complex situation.”
With a distinct possibility of postponement, timing may institute changes to existing tour schedules. 2022 would be problematic, with England set to tour Australia while Ireland are in New Zealand, and Wales are due in South Africa 15 months out from the World Cup in France.
As important as fitting into the International calendar is, the health and welfare of the host and visiting players and fans is paramount. Pushing the Lions tour out by 12 months, which is a financial necessity for the South African Union, will suit many country’s vaccination programs – all hoping that the pandemic is diluted to the point where cross-border travel is freely available. That is highly questionable in July of this year, so in this case the decision is one bigger than just ‘a question of when’.
This is why the British and Irish Lions management has not committed to any course of action just yet. Meetings in January could offer further information, with February matching with Six Nations matches, when all unions could be involved in the final discussions on the future of the 2021 South Africa tour.
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