Could the best of Britain and Ireland play the Springboks Down Under this summer?
Australia offer to host Lions v South Africa series
The Covid-19 pandemic has put the tour at risk, particularly given the variant strains in both the UK and South Africa. SA Rugby and the Lions have been discussing alternative options, including playing matches behind closed doors in South Africa and moving the tour to the UK and Ireland.
Now The Sunday Times is reporting that Rugby Australia has proposed staging the series Down Under.
Australia has been hosting sporting events, both domestic and international, with crowds for the past few months, albeit with venues at reduced capacity. The Tri-Nations last year and the recent Australia v India cricket series have had fans in attendance while 30,000 spectators will be allowed in for the upcoming Australian Open tennis tournament.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald that a proposal had been put forward.
“What we learnt from the Tri-Nations last year and the tennis that’s happening now is that Australia can successfully stage global tournaments in a Covid world,” McLennan told the SMH.
“It’s particularly tough in the UK and South Africa at the moment and I believe the more international rugby that gets played here, the better. We’re here to help.”
The plan would be for the Lions and South Africa to share profits from the tour once Australia’s costs had been covered.
However, it’s unlikely that travelling supporters from the UK and Ireland – the heartbeat of a Lions tour – or South Africa would be able to attend matches even if the tour was moved to Australia.
The country’s borders are currently closed to non-Australian citizens and that policy is set to remain in place throughout 2021. Special dispensation has been given to elite sports teams and players, but an influx of fans, particularly from countries with high Covid rates, would likely be blocked by the government.
Still, McLennan believes matches would attract sellout crowds given the large expatriate population. He said: “There is a multi-generational ex-pat community for both South Africa and the UK out here.
“I’m confident there would be great patronage for the Tests. Remember, they are some of our biggest communities in Australia. I’m sure we would get a fantastic turnout.”
The Lions are due to make a decision on this year’s tour by mid-February.
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