Covid-19 set to claim another sporting event as Lions tour now likely to be held in the United Kingdom
One of the abiding memories from the last visit of the British and Irish Lions to these shores was the sheer size of the red army that descended on these parts in 2009.
Ahead of kick-off in the opening Test at Kings Park‚ visiting fans almost to a man and woman‚ dressed in a Lions’ jersey carefully‚ made their way up the tight and steep top tier of the eastern stand before inching sideways to their designated seats.
Slowly but inexorably they all made it to their destination in a mass movement not dissimilar to the annual red crab migration on Christmas Island.
It is a spectacle South Africans are unlikely to witness this year. They won’t see Lions chasing Springboks either as increasingly the tidings from the north seem to suggest the tour will be staged in the United Kingdom.
The Covid-19 pandemic would have claimed another sizeable sporting victim if this was to be the case. Getting a handle on the pandemic and driving the infection rate down is proving a gargantuan task for local officials and it is unlikely restrictions will be lifted to the point where full stadiums will be permitted by the time the tour is supposed to commence in July.
Playing in empty stadiums would not be commercially viable hence the increased talk of staging the Tests in the United Kingdom in front of limited crowds.
Reports from the UK suggest tour organisers are considering basing both squads on the island of Jersey‚ in the English Channel.
Increasingly officials‚ including broadcasters are growing receptive to the idea of staging the tour in the UK. Apart from the gains from gate receipts‚ the Tests will also be played in very favourable times for the broadcasters.
From Down Under also came the left field offer from Rugby Australia to make available their resources for staging the tour there. The prospect of playing the Tests in front of sell out crowds in a safe environment is their sizeable bargaining chip.
Moving the tour to next year would be the most logical option for most rugby fans‚ but the all-powerful Rugby Union (English Rugby Union) is desperate to avoid scheduling conflicts next year.
They are committed to their first tour of Australia in six years. England would effectively have to take a B-side to Australia if the Lions tour is postponed‚ as they may well make up the lion’s share of the tourists to South Africa.
A watered down series in Australia is unlikely to be the money spinner it was on their last visit when it helped drag Rugby Australia out of the red.
Also‚ England will be desperate for a proper tour a year out from the next Rugby World Cup in France.
On the other side of the Tasman‚ Ireland who are due to battle the All Blacks next year will have similar considerations‚ although their match-up less fuelled by the bottom line than the increasingly tetchy nature of their recent contests.
The Springboks fans who are most likely to see their team clash with the British and Irish Lions this year‚ are almost certainly expats.
Source: ARENA Holdings.