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British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa: a big decision ahead for rugby bosses

Games behind closed doors in South Africa or hosting the tour in another country are possible options

The British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa is under threat because of the Covid-19 pandemic, leading organisers to examine possible alternatives for the unique international rugby union series. 

As things stand, the Lions squad - which is made up from English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh players - are due in South Africa in July and August. They are scheduled to play eight matches in total - five warm-up games and then three Tests against the Springboks.

However, with travel restricted and both the UK and South Africa struggling with outbreaks and new variants of the coronavirus, rugby chiefs will be considering Plan B, Plan C or even Plan D for the summer schedule. 

There has been talk that games could be being played behind closed doors in South Africa or switched to the UK and Ireland, Sky Sports reports. Delaying until 2022 or hosting matches in Australia this year are also possibilities. 

‘We’re here to help’

At this month’s Australian Open tennis grand slam, 30,000 fans a day will be allowed to watch the action at Melbourne Park, Reuters reports. This would make it the “most significant international event with crowds that the world has seen in many, many months”, said Victoria state sports minister Martin Pakula. 

With sport returning to some normality in the country, rugby chiefs down under are ready to step in and help the Lions if needed.  

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan told the Sydney Morning Herald: “What we learnt from the Tri Nations last year and the tennis that’s happening now is that Australia can successfully stage global tournaments in a Covid world.

“It’s particularly tough in the UK and South Africa at the moment and I believe the more international rugby that gets played here, the better. We’re here to help.”

‘Another soulless game’

Australia’s offer to host the Test series this summer has “been added to the options under consideration by Lions management”, The Scotsman reports.  

Despite the prospect of bumper crowds in the alternative host nation, The Guardian understands the British & Irish Lions management are likely to reject the “generous” offer from Australia. 

Games being played behind-closed-doors in South Africa looks the likeliest solution. A decision is expected by the end of this month.

Brenden Nel, writer for African broadcaster SuperSport, believes that playing the Lions series anywhere but South Africa will make it “just another soulless game”. 

He said: “The Lions have always represented something more than a rugby game. Playing the series in the UK or Australia may get the games played, but it will destroy the Lions as a romantic rugby ideal. And nobody should be happy with that.” 

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