Organisers of next year’s British and Irish Lions three test tour of South Africa believe the improving Covid-19 situation in the country will allow supporters to watch the series.
Ben Calveley, the Lions managing director, painted a upbeat picture for the tour which is crucial to the financial future of both the most famous touring team in the world and the South African RU as details of a warm up match against Japan at Murrayfield next June were revealed.
Despite the UK and Ireland currently bringing in tougher restrictions to try and contain the spread of the pandemic, Calveley said the improving situation in South Africa is giving hope that the ten of thousands of Lions supporters expected to visit the country for the tour will be able to travel.
Calveley said: “We all know that Lions tours need to have fans and they aren’t the same without that sea of red. We are hoping fans can get into the venues and that is Plan A and it is too early to say what the situation is going to be but South Africa is different to what we are seeing in the UK at the moment. Here we are seeing restrictions because the infection rates are going up.
“Over in South Africa the reverse is the case there the infection rates are going down and restrictions are being lifted. There is a suggestion that the infection rate may have plateaued. There are reasons to be optimistic about borders being open and fans able to take their places in those venues.
“South Africa’s borders opened on October 1 and there are lots of sporting events happening in the country between now and the tour and we will be able to learn. Our plan is focussing on dealing with environment that presents itself next year and it is an emerging situation and we have regular meeting with the SARU and monthly with the British and Irish High Commissions in South Africa and we are not setting any artificial deadlines.
“We have to be optimistic and we still have got the best part of nine months before the tour. The level of interest in the tour is off the scale and is considerably higher than anything we have seen from previous tours. Our focus is Plan A which is working with South Africa to ensure we are ready to deal with whatever Covid environment we find ourselves in next summer.
“No one can tell me with certainty what the situation will be and we are contingency planning in the back ground to deal with various scenarios. There are lots of reasons to optimistic and sport around the world has returned at the elite level and in some countries we are seeing fans return.
“ We are really keen to play a fixture against top quality opposition (Japan) before the ultimate challenge of taking on the world champions in their own backyard. Japan are a rugby nation on the up and play a fantastic brand of rugby.”