One of the three contingency plans being considered in the event that the tour this summer is cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic is the Lions playing their series against South Africa in the UK and Ireland. The PA news agency understands that consideration is also given to the prospect of postponing to 2022 and retaining the current itinerary in South Africa, but keeping the Games behind closed doors.
Due to the worsening Covid 19 crisis, which has seen a growing number of cases on local shores and in South Africa, the prospects of the tour going ahead as expected are looking increasingly grim. Without their greatest advantage, the Lions tour to South Africa could be without their fans (David Davies/PA) The complexity of the problem facing the Lions is exacerbated by the latest strains of the virus in Kent and South Africa, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledging that he is “very worried” about the latter. On Saturday, Lions chief executive Ben Calveley announced that discussions were underway on the feasibility of the tour and a final decision will be taken next month. It will allow the event to take place in the allocated time slot to host a landmark first Lions series in the UK and Ireland, with the possibility of fans being able to attend tests at venues such as Twickenham, Principality Stadium and Aviva Stadium. View this post on Instagram A post shared by The British & Irish Lions (@britishandirishlions)Large crowds might be a real choice with immunization campaigns already underway, and there would be a commercial benefit overall compared to a series behind closed doors in South Africa. A postponement to 2022 will suit financially strapped South Africa, as it is hoped that by then the coronavirus would have been fully cured and some degree of normality will have returned, but it is likely that there would be resistance from the head coaches of the domestic federation. Fifteen months before the 2023 World Cup, next year’s trips to the southern hemisphere are an important stage and missing them will be an unfair price to pay for those whose reputations are on the line or dropping in the World Cup. Eddie Jones will resist the Lions tour replacing England’s trip to Australia in the summer of 2022 (Adam Davy/PA) Eddie Jones of England has repeatedly said that Lions players are tired on their return and need to rest for several months, so the possibility of having to revamp his most valuable stars at such a crucial time would make it difficult for him and his tracksuit rivals to protest. It would produce television revenue and maintain the Lions tour tradition, but the spectacle would be devalued beyond recognition without the anticipated 30,000 vociferous traveling fans to provide excitement and colour. The coffers of South Africa will not only take away a crucial aspect of the importance of the Lions, but also silence a lucrative opportunity that only comes around once every 12 years. If the tour is held in the UK and Ireland, Twickenham could host a Lions Test match (Matt Alexander/PA)When Springboks Association chief executive Jurie Roux said “no fans, no tour,” his main thought was the financial boost. Sky Sports television broadcasters are in the background, but armed with a clear and powerful voice, without which the whole escapade will fail, and whose place on emergency options is uncertain. Faced with an unenviable choice, Calveley and the Lions board are caught between a rock and a hard place, desperate to save the tour, but knowing that lives may be at risk. South Africa’s vaccination program is far behind the UK’s and with the tour looking increasingly impossible with each passing day, it could be a case of choosing the least bad option.