The Tokyo Games will take place over the same period as the Test series in South Africa
New Olympic dates clash with Lions tour
The IOC has confirmed that the Tokyo Olympic Games will now take place from Friday 23 July to Sunday 8 August 2021.
The Games had been due to take place this summer but were postponed last week because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the Olympics will clash with the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa and specifically the team’s Test series against the world champions.
Warren Gatland’s side play their first tour match on Saturday 3 July against the Stormers – three weeks before the Olympics starts. However, all three Test matches against the Springboks will take place at the same time as the Olympics is on – 24 and 31 July and 7 August.
The fact the events are taking place in different time zones is likely to minimise any clash in broadcast schedules, but there are other issues to consider.
One is selection. Any 15s players from South Africa or the home nations who were contemplating switching to sevens for Tokyo 2020 will now have to decide whether they want to play in a Lions series or an Olympics because they won’t be able to do both.
Mark Bennett and James Davies switched from 15s to sevens to be part of Team GB’s silver medal-winning sevens squad in 2016, for instance, although both would be long shots for Lions 2021 selection.
SA Rugby magazine reports that Springboks Cheslin Kolbe and Kwagga Smith were planning to make themselves available for selection for the Blitzboks for the Games, but may now have to rethink things. After all, a Lions tour to South Africa happens only once every 12 years.
There may be supporters who had booked to go to the Olympics and on the Lions tour, too, so they will have to decide which event to experience live.
Another issue is sponsors. The Lions is a huge commercial entity but sponsorship deals could be affected now the tour is in competition with the Olympics, particularly as it also overlaps with the rescheduled Euro 2020 football tournament (11 June to 11 July 2021).
With three huge events competing for media coverage, it could impact the value of sponsorship deals.
The women’s game could be even more affected by the new Olympic dates, where there is far more crossover between sevens and 15s.
Keira Bevan, for example, is in the Team GB training squad but is also Wales’ first-choice scrum-half. Portia Woodman was the top try-scorer at RWC 2017 with 13 but is also a star performer for the Black Ferns Sevens.
Next year’s World Cup kicks off on 18 September in New Zealand – only a six-week turnaround from the Olympics, which could make it hard for players to compete in both events given the time it can take to adapt between the two codes.
Players face some tough decisions over the next year.
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