The British and Irish Lions 2021 Tour appears to be in jeopardy as both the United Kingdom and South Africa face a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.
Reports from the UK indicate that talks are progressing regarding contingency plans for the tour which faces a fresh threat in the form of the ‘mutant’ strain of the coronavirus detected in both countries.
British and Irish Lions tour in jeopardy
The stakeholders had been content to wait until March to make a decision on the tour, which is scheduled to get underway in July, but now it appears they are eager to begin making alternative arrangements.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen the world champion Springboks not play any Test rugby since lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in 2019.
The fresh surge is a grave concern for SA Rugby with vaccine rollouts still months or perhaps even a year away from coming to fruition.
Surge spoils plans
Both sides are understood to have agreed that the tour will not go ahead behind closed doors, meaning that South Africa’s government will need to have lifted its ban on large gatherings in order for the Test series to go ahead.
Tickets for the series have been in high demand both for fans from the UK and Ireland as well as South Africans.
“The level of interest is approximately five times higher than what we’ve had on previous tours,” Lions managing director Ben Calveley said in October 2020.
“We sold the level of packages that we sold for the Australia (2013) tour within one day of going on sale, and I think it took a week to get beyond the number of packages that were sold for the New Zealand (2017) tour.
“Two of the Test matches sold out in record time – they were gone within an hour of going on sale – and the third Test, because it’s played in a great big 92,000-seat venue at Soccer City, took a little bit longer; about a couple of days. But all of them sold out and are very heavily over-subscribed. Those numbers suggest that not only is the interest there but people intend to travel in their droves.”
Postponing the tour until 2022 is not ideal considering the ramifications for an already disrupted international rugby schedule.
Despite renewed lockdowns and harsher restrictions sports events in the UK and South Africa are currently continuing behind closed doors.
A cancellation or even postponement could be disastrous fro SA Rugby who have already had to slash salaries and player wages across the board.