LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) – The UK & Ireland Lions 2021 tour of South Africa will go ahead as planned after officials said on Tuesday they had rejected the idea of holding a draw in Britain and now see only one option. .
A joint statement from Lions and SA Rugby said they were “in line” in South Africa as a venue for this year’s tour, with contingency plans for a series based in the UK or Australia as hosts ruled out.
“After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios under consideration, I can confirm that the Board’s intended position is for the Tour to continue as scheduled in South Africa in 2021,” said Jason Leonard, Chair of British & Irish Lions.
“We acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done to provide a strong COVID-19 response plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour.
“SA Rugby will have our full support to help carry out this plan.”
The July-August tour has been in uncertainty for months due to the COVID-19 situation in South Africa, which has improved significantly in recent weeks.
But with Africa’s most developed nation not yet starting to vaccinate the general public, and the timeline for the complex’s launch is unclear, the Lions’ winter tour will almost certainly be without fans in the stadiums.
However, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander remains hopeful they will have some supporters in the stands, which will provide much-needed income to the cash-strapped organization.
“We value the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said Alexander.
“We have been in regular contact with our government to make this happen against the backdrop of the pandemic and its forecast for the coming months.
“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, if the event takes place without any supporters present, and we cannot ignore that in our judgment.”
Alexander confirmed that the original tour schedule of eight matches, with three tests against world champions Springboks, was also under review.
Earlier, Rugby Football Union chairman Bill Sweeney, who sits on the Lions Board, said the tour should continue this year because 2022 is not an option.
“If they (SA Rugby) cannot host then the agreement is null and void. We may run out of time in England. So you look at playing in 2025, “he said. (Reporting by Mitch Phillips in London and Nick Said in Cape Town, editing by Ken Ferris)