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Lions’ tour of South Africa to go ahead as planned

The British & Irish Lions and SA Rugby have confirmed today (Tuesday) that the team’s upcoming tour of South Africa will go ahead in the country as planned, although doubts remain over potential fan attendance.

There had been doubts over whether the tour would take place in South Africa amid the ongoing difficulties posed by COVID-19, with Rugby Australia having made a proposal to stage the series. There had also been talk that the series could be held in the UK and Ireland as a contingency plan if South Africa was not able to host.

However, it has been agreed that the series will go ahead in South Africa as scheduled, with the tour to begin on July 3 and culminate with three Test matches on July 24, July 31 and August 7.

Johannesburg’s ‘Soccer City’ FNB Stadium (pictured), which staged the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, is due to host the first Test on July 24, before Cape Town Stadium hosts the second Test on July 31. The Lions will return to Johannesburg for the third and final Test against the world champions at Emirates Airline Park, the site of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, on August 7.

The Lions board yesterday informed SA Rugby that its preference was to play the series in South Africa. Follow-up meetings were held earlier today and the decision has now been confirmed.

Jason Leonard, chairman of the Lions, said: “After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board’s intended position is for the tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021.

“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.”

Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, added: “We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour. We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”

Alexander added that the original tour schedule was subject to review, with any changes to be communicated as soon as possible.

It is not yet known whether international or cross-border travel for supporters will be possible into South Africa in July. Lions fans that have purchased tickets through Lions Rugby Travel will be protected by a COVID-19 guarantee.

A decision on fan attendance has also not been made. SA Rugby and the Lions will continue to work with the relevant South African government departments to ascertain the latest guidance on COVID-19 protocols for major events, and fans that have purchased tickets through the Lions ticket ballot will be refunded if games are held behind closed doors.

The Lions also confirmed that the pre-series Test match against Japan at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium will go ahead as planned on June 26, with a decision on fan attendance to be made nearer the time. It will mark only the third time the Lions have played a ‘home’ fixture.

Image: Andreas Wulff/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size