The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa is currently set to proceed without any supporters in stadiums, the Lions announced on Friday, after a revised schedule for the eight-game tour was confirmed.
Restrictions on attendance at sports events by the SA government remain in place, while South Africa is also on the UK government’s ‘red’ list of covid-19 countries. “The UK government states that you should not travel to red list countries or territories for leisure purposes,” noted the Lions.
Reports this week have also suggested that South Africa is on the brink of a third wave of coronavirus infections, with cases climbing since the beginning of May. Both the Lions and SA Rugby however have not entirely given up hope that supporters may be able to attend matches.
“We are hopeful that restrictions on attendance at sports events will be relaxed but, for the moment, we are planning for an event behind closed doors,” said SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux. “If that requirement changes, then we’ll assess the options available and make the necessary decisions based on the restrictions in place.”
All ticket holders for the original schedule will receive a full refund, while SA Rugby also confirmed that SA resident ticket holders would have first right to purchase tickets for the revised schedule if restrictions on attendance at sports events were lifted.
A decision is also yet to be made on how many supporters will be able to attend the Lions warm-up fixture at Murrayfield on June 26 against Japan, with any decision on crowd size made in line with the latest Scottish Government guidance.
The Lions’ revised schedule in South Africa will now see the touring side based solely in either Gauteng – covering Johannesburg and Pretoria – or Cape Town throughout the eight-game tour.
Kick-off times have also been confirmed, with all three Test matches taking place at 17:00 BST. Warm-up matches against the Sharks and South Africa ‘A’ will kick off at 19:00 BST, with the remaining warm-up fixtures also starting at 17:00 BST.
In a change from the original schedule the tour will now begin with the British and Irish Lions facing the Emirates Lions, after the Lions were previously set to face an SA Invitiational XV. That adjustment has been made to reduce the risks associated with drawing an invitational squad from around South Africa.
The tourists will then face the Sharks and Bulls in Johannesburg and Pretoria before moving south to Cape Town to face South Africa ‘A’ and the Stormers in the final warm-up matches, ahead of the first Test in Cape Town against the Springboks. The second and third Tests will then be played back at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.
“While things will undoubtedly look different to a typical Lions Tour, together with SA Rugby we are determined to deliver an uninterrupted Series for the players who will take the field, as well as the many millions of people watching at home,” said Ben Calveley, The British & Irish Lions Managing Director.
Roux added: “The scenarios changed on a weekly basis with options on three different continents workshopped and interrogated over the past few months to reach this point.
“Throughout we have had a single-minded goal to ensure the Series went ahead. The British and Irish Lions only visit our shores once every 12 years and to deny our players and our supporters the opportunity of sharing in the experience of what is invariably an event that passes into folklore would have been a devastating blow. We’re now ready to deliver the series.”