British and Irish Lions push ahead with South Africa tour but doubts remain

The British and Irish Lions tour could yet be scrapped or heavily modified despite ‘confirmation’ that it will go ahead as scheduled in South Africa.

Plans to switch the eight-match tour to the UK and Ireland due to the pandemic were dramatically binned as the Lions announced that they wanted to travel after all.

Chairman Jason Leonard said: “Every British and Irish player dreams of wearing the famous red jersey and players from the southern hemisphere aspire to be part of a Lions series.

“We owe it to the current players vying for a place in both squads to ensure they can become part of Lions history.”

But organisers quickly admitted that it was “not yet known whether international or cross-border travel for supporters will be possible into the country in July”.

And SA Rugby president Mark Alexander added: “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.”

South Africa is braced for a third wave of coronavirus after Easter and the country has no nationwide vaccination programme in place.

Lions board member Bill Sweeney said they were seeking urgent clarity from South Africa that they can fulfil their obligation to host the tour.

“We believe they're saying they can,” said Sweeney, chief executive of the Rugby Football Union. “But that needs to be cleared up in the next couple of days.

“There's a hell of a lot to do to host a series like that. We have seen already the situation with the ECB in cricket when they went to South Africa and players halfway in said they did not feel comfortable with the protocols in place and the welfare issues in place. The side returned home.

"We have to work with South Africa and make sure they have got the right environments there. We have to make sure the players’ health and welfare is absolutely of a level we can accept."

Sweeney added: "If they can't host it then the agreement is off and we've probably run out of time on the UK alternative. So you're looking at playing in 2025.”

It is believed a 'home' tour was considered too great a financial risk with no guarantee of fans and the government reportedly unwilling to underwrite potential losses.

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