Desperate bid to salvage Lions tour of South Africa hit by infighting

Desperate bid to salvage 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa hit by infighting as opposition to contingency plans emerge

  • The 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa is under threat right now
  • There is a growing realisation it is unlikely to proceed as planned due to Covid
  • But emergency negotiations to salvage the tour have been met with resistance 

Emergency negotiations to salvage the Lions tour are in danger of being undermined by self-interest, as opposition to various contingency options quickly emerged on Monday.

The 2021 British and Irish campaign in South Africa is facing the threat of COVID disruption, as first reported by Sportsmail last Saturday. 

While organisers have not yet given up all hope of staging the eight-match event in its scheduled slot this July and August – following a warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield in late June – there is a growing realisation that it is unlikely to proceed as planned due to the global pandemic.

The 2021 British and Irish Lions tour is under threat due to the ongoing Covid pandemic

A decision is set to be made by early next month on whether to press ahead or make alternative arrangements. However, it is already clear that there will be considerable resistance to any of the fall-back scenarios.

Postponing the tour by 12 months is understood to be the preferred option for the South African authorities, who regard playing fixtures in empty stadia there this summer as unviable. But one home unions source swiftly cast doubt on that contingency, telling Sportsmail: ‘The Lions will go ahead or be cancelled.’ When pressed about shifting to 2022, the source added: ‘It can’t happen.. Countries will not release players. Tours are in place (next year).’ 

England are due to play three Tests in Australia next year, while Ireland have an end-of-season series in New Zealand.

Another well-placed source described that factor as a ‘problem’ and revealed that the option of moving matches from South Africa to the UK and Ireland this summer ‘is possible’, adding ‘cash is king’ – to emphasise the financial aspect of the contingency planning. If the Lions were to play a Test series at home, it would be a last resort which would not involve the same level of preparation as is currently lined up; five pre-series tour games.

As rights-holding broadcasters, Sky Sports will have a significant say in the negotiations. Sportsmail understands that, in principal, they would not oppose any attempt to postpone the tour until 2022, but switching to home fixtures is regarded as a ‘non-starter’.

There has been speculation in recent days that postponing the Lions tour could create a window this summer which would make sense for the forthcoming Six Nations to occupy, in order to increase the prospect of having crowds – after several more months of COVID vaccination programmes. But there is no appetite among the home unions to explore this idea.

Emergency negotiations to salvage tour of South Africa are being undermined by infighting

The RFU released a statement which read: ‘We are committed to the (existing) fixtures, monitoring the situation with all parties and planning continues.’ It is understood that the BBC and ITV have no desire to delay the Six Nations and create a calendar clash with the Olympics, football’s European Championships and Wimbledon.

European club organisers EPCR confirmed on Monday night that no clubs have officially indicated ‘any intention not to fulfil their remaining fixtures in the 2020-21 season’, in response to Bayonne and other French sides threatening a boycott over COVID concerns.

Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees has escaped further action for shoving a Sale water-carrier to spark a mass brawl at Kingsholm on Saturday, but Sale No 8 Daniel du Preez will face a hearing for his shoulder charge to the head of Chris Harris.

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