If a workable alternative is to be found this summer, federations, teams, TV executives and sponsors can no longer function in isolation.
To fix all its issues, rugby union seldom, if ever, required a panacea.
Older readers will note that, along with the habitual use of a mask to hide his face, this was once the trademark of the Lone Ranger. How the Covid-threatened rugby administrators would love to come out of nowhere to have a face-covered modern-day savior to save their sport from inevitable oblivion.
Sadly, the fact is that it is no longer possible for federations, clubs, broadcasters and sponsors to behave in isolation. Even if the British & Irish Lions somehow manage to find a workable compromise that will keep their South Africa tour scheduled for this summer, it is doubtful that anyone will be pleased. An utter no-go for some is what works for others.
This is why the time for self-interest is not now, as the virus reveals the tenacity of a striker bearing a stubborn grudge.
It would be because the big organisations, the clubs and all other stakeholders are working together to defend it if Lions pride is to be protected for decades.
It was possible to indefinitely compromise anything less than a true collective rebellion and the entire glorious idea.
Take, for instance, the suggestion that, in the face of rising infection rates and confusion among traveling fans, the Lions Tour could actually be delayed a year to 2022. Even for the host country, with the defending of the World Cup title in 2023 already looming, it would not be ideal. For Eddie Jones, whose preparations for this tournament are already well advanced, if he wants to mold them into a team capable of beating the world, there is no point in sending his best 20 players to South Africa.
A brave man will have to tell Jones to ignore a team that only tours every four years, or the South African FA that urgently needs revenue. “If we can’t tour, you’ll be here drinking with me every night”If we can’t tour, you’ll be here drinking with me every night.
Money still speaks and it will be worth more to England to win the 2023 World Cup than a Lions win over the Springboks.
At this point, South Africa’s opinion is worth listening to.
Educated sources consulted by the Guardian indicate that the next preference will be for a postponement to November or the summer of 2022 if the upcoming tour is not a success this summer. That would require World Rugby, however, to plunge headlong into the controversy and tear up a global tour schedule that has already been widely advertised. Would Ireland fly to New Zealand for a three-Test series without its best players? Not an opportunity.
The next item on the wish list will be to move the whole “tour” to the UK and Ireland, a potentially perfectly good idea, but also highly reliant on the attendance of spectators. A whole host of other issues will also be present. If it were kept on home soil, would the Lions series experience anything like this? During the week when all the big European club teams are on break, who will exactly supply the opponents? Already on the calendar, will the Euros, Wimbledon, the Open Golf and the Olympics end up destroying the special aura which makes the Lions so wonderfully different?
It seems like the very last resort will be to stage the Games in South Africa without fans. This is the cruelest scenario of all for anyone who has ever attended a Lions tour. If they are not a cavalcade of human joy, a force for camaraderie and the unity of four nations on and off the field, what is the point of the Lions? It’s a winner-takes-all series with the Boks and the Lions if there is a sporting event in the world less suited to being played out in a soulless bubble.
So, there are no real signs of a way out, especially as officials from the Northern Hemisphere are pressing for an early decision.
In comparison, there are many who claim that South Africa’s infection rates will decrease in a few weeks.
If the Lions tour this year had been mothballed now, k