By Paul Jones
Lions supporters have started a petition calling for this summer’s tour to South Africa to be postponed to 2022 rather than being staged in the UK and Ireland.
Over 1,450 fans have so far urged the home unions not to abandon 133 years of Lions history by holding the series against the Springboks on these shores, which is one three contingency plans being examined due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If the tour cannot be completed in front of full stadia as scheduled – a decision is due next month – then the other options are to push the event back a year or to hold it behind closed doors in South Africa.
The petition regards a postponement as the only acceptable choice and demands that the 2022 summer tours make way for the Lions.
“Covid-19 will almost certainly prevent the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour from taking place in the host country of South Africa,” petition organiser Mark Gardner said on change.org.
“We are petitioning for the home nations of England (RFU), Scotland (SRU), Ireland (IRFU) Wales (WRU) who collectively make up the British & Irish Lions Board, and South Africa (SA Rugby) to do the right thing by agreeing to switch the Lions tour to 2022, placing this before the needs of their own country’s proposed summer tours. The Lions requires only 36 players from across the four home nations.
“A well-documented UK-hosted replacement series in July 2021 not only dilutes the rich touring history of the Lions, it denies South Africa’s fans, stadia, businesses, and whole tourism infrastructure the opportunity to host, impress and benefit from the 30,000 fans expected to follow the world’s most passionate invitational touring team.
“Further, UK tour operators, independent travelling fans, airlines, and businesses that exist and rely on this outbound tourism would face substantial pressures on losses through commitments made to this date.
“Britain’s surging COVID rates offer no guarantee that matches on UK soil would provide access to fans, thus opening the potential of Test games held behind closed doors.
“What makes the Lions special, what makes the Lions unique is the power it has to tempt 30,000+ passionate rugby fans from across the British and Irish Isles to embark on a sporting pilgrimage to the opposite side of the globe.
“Help us reach 30,000 signatures to present this compelling case to keep the Lions in South Africa in July and August 2022 and NOT a watered-down alternative that focuses only on revenue for a select few beneficiaries.”
Pushing the Lions tour, which is a financial necessity for the South African Union, back to 2022 would be problematic. Wales are due to tour South Africa 15 months out from the 2023 World Cup in France, with England set to tour Australia while Ireland are in New Zealand
The original plan is for the Lions to travel to South Africa to play five provincial games before the three-Test series against the world champions.
The Lions are due to play eight matches in South Africa, starting with the Stormers in Cape Town on 3 July and ending with the third Test against the World Cup holders in Johannesburg on 7 August. The Springboks have not played since defeating England in the World Cup final 14 months ago.
The revised plan would likely see the Test matches held at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Twickenham and Edinburgh and Dublin.