British & Irish Lions board on a collision course with supporters over tour plan

British & Irish Lions board members from the home unions are on a collision course with supporters over contingency plans to bring the Springboks to the UK and Ireland this summer.

British and Irish Lions fans in Auckland during the 2017 tour of New Zealand.
British and Irish Lions fans in Auckland during the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

The Lions are scheduled to tour South Africa in July and August but it is looking increasingly unlikely to happen due to Covid.

A highly transmissible variant of coronavirus is fuelling a surge in the number of cases in South Africa. Named B1351, it is thought to offer some resistance to vaccines.

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Discussions are now centred on hosting the Springboks in UK and Ireland instead.

Lions fans at Eden Park during the 2017 tour.

However, Lions supporters have started a petition calling for this summer’s tour to be postponed to 2022 rather than being staged here..

Over 2,300 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 can not be completed in front of full stadia as scheduled 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.

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However, the four home unions chief executives on the Lions board are thought to consider hosting South Africa on these shores as the only realistic option.

Mark Dodson (SRU), Bill Sweeney (RFU), Philip Browne (IRFU) and Steve Phillips (WRU) believe Edinburgh, London, Dublin and Cardiff could stage Test matches.

As things stand, BT Murrayfield is scheduled to host the Lions’ ‘farewell’ Test match against Japan on June 26. The tourists are then due to play three Tests in South Africa as well as five other matches.

The home unions reps on the Lions board would rather see the four Tests played here but petition organiser Mark Gardner has called on them to push the tour back to next year.

“Covid-19 will almost certainly prevent the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour from taking place in the host country of South Africa,” 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.”

However, moving the Lions tour to 2022 causes problems for the home unions who are planning their own tours.

A final decision on the Lions tour is expected next month.

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