There has been much talk recently that the cancellation of the 2021 Lions South Africa tour may be a reality with alternatives being considered including a possible “home” tour of Britain and Ireland.
Ryan Jordan considers some of the salient points.
Uncertainty over Covid-19 situations
This is a mutual concern. Both South Africa and the UK are struggling to contain the virus. A decision would need to be taken fairly soon for logistical reasons. The Lions have a large touring following. The first game of the tour is planned for 17 July. That is only 6 months away. With both hosts and tourists currently under some form of lockdown, who knows what the situation will be in July.
That would be mid-winter in South Africa and peak infection time for any coronavirus type disease. Without certainty that players and fans would be safe, the tour becomes very risky. If the tour does take place, it would almost certainly be in empty stadiums.
The impact of no supporters
A tour by the British and Irish Lions to any of the thee traditional Southern Hemisphere countries is a big deal. The challenge for the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies to take on the combined resources of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales is mighty, but the smell of money is what counts.
The Lions are normally accompanied by a large group of traveling fans, who bring with them strong voices and wallets full of cash. Those strong voices add plenty to the vibe of a Lions tour and it would be surreal to not have that support ringing around the stadiums of South Africa.
No supporters would also be another nail in the coffin for many South African hospitality companies who are currently in a parlous situation due to South Africa’s very strict lockdown rules. The Lions South Africa tour would be a godsend for the industry if their supporters arrive too. A town like Mbombela (Nelspruit) would have every available bed booked should the Lions arrive with their supporters in tow. Those same supporters would not be best pleased if there was yet another alcohol ban in place when they arrive.
What are the alternatives?
Postponement to 2022
Postponing the tour to 2022 would make the most sense. Hopefully, the pandemic would be under some form of control, aided by the rollout of vaccinations. The complication would be that there are already commitments in place. Ireland has committed to a three Test tour of New Zealand, so the International Test window would have to be renegotiated.
This might be a little difficult given that South African rugby has started to drift away from Australia and New Zealand. The counter to that is that the drift is towards the home of the Lions. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The “home” tour
There have been recent rumours of the tour taking place in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Lions would host the Springboks to three Tests and the “mid-week” games would see the Lions host the Sharks, Bulls and Stormers. Although there is talk of this, most British and Irish Lions fans would probably reject that idea outright.
The appeal of the Lions is that they are a team of combined nationalities who tour Australia, New Zealand South Africa. They bring with them a massive fan base who join in with their hosts in a massive celebration of rugby. This tradition supersedes even the historical tradition of the Barbarians.
Lions South Africa tour
The final decision regarding the Lions South Africa tour is likely to be made within the next two weeks. The easiest part to predict is that it will not take place in 2021. The concept of a “home” tour is distasteful to many rugby fans.
Lions legend Willie John McBride is on record saying that the “home” tour would be disgraceful and would destroy the ethos of the team. The only logical solution is to postpone the tour, but that might be subject to a lot of political wrangling between the SANZAAR nations and home unions, with South Africa firmly in the middle.
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