world champion Springboks must play the British & Irish Lions in 2021 or wait until 2033 to face the famed men in red.
A postponement of the Lions eight-match tour of South Africa until July 2022 is an impossibility because of World Rugby’s 10-year calendar that simply cannot accommodate the tour at the expense of as many as 11 national federations’ commitments and several other club competition structures.
The hyped Lions tour of South Africa, in its original guise, will not take place in 2021. Covid-19’s second wave, the threat of a third wave and the uncertainty about when South Africans will benefit from mass vaccinations have crushed all aspirations of the Lions being the biggest sporting event in South Africa since Fifa’s 2010 Soccer World Cup.
The world is a very different place a decade on from that fabulous sporting occasion, in which all of South Africa combined with visitors from across the globe to celebrate soccer’s biggest occasion.
There has been such anticipation in relation to the British & Irish Lions. So much work has gone into making it the most memorable and lucrative extravaganza this country has ever seen when it comes to rugby.
Ticket sales for the three-Test series were oversubscribed, with the second Test at Cape Town’s Stadium oversubscribed by 500%. South Africans, so desperate to see their 2019 World Cup winners and world champions play the best of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland had no hesitation in committing to ticket purchases for the biggest Test matches outside a World Cup final.
It is a tour, in which 40,000 travelling Lions supporters, would have painted South Africa red for the month of July and into the first week of August. The tourism industry in South Africa was in a state of delight two years ago. The country’s leadership was equally enthusiastic because of the economic injection from a Lions visit to South Africa that happens only once every 12 years.
This was always going to be the tour that retained the best of amateur traditions and married it to the financial and commercial realities of professional sport. It was a tour about ensuring the future of the Lions, through commercial sustainability, and also adding to SA Rugby’s financial stability over the next decade.