British and Irish Lions tour on verge of cancellation as huge spike in cases ravages South Africa
The British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa this summer is precariously close to not going ahead after worrying developments in the number of Coronavirus cases in the host nation and in the UK.
Bosses had originally chosen to wait till March before making a final decision on whether the tour should go ahead but contingency plans have been escalated with organisers expected to come to their decision as early as the end of this month.
The groundbreaking story was broken by Chris Foy at the Daily Mail late last night.
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With a new, more transmittable, strain of the virus surging both in South African and the UK, fears have grown that the tour scheduled for this summer will not be able to go ahead as planned.
The organisers of the tour have previously stated that for the event to go ahead it is essential that fans are in attendance with 30,000 supporters expected to follow the Lions as part of the side’s ‘Red Army’.
It is not financially viable for the event to be held behind closed doors – nor would it be in keeping with the spirit of the tour – organisers have already said.
Talks are now expected to held later this month after the unprecedented surge in cases.
The travelling fans are, for many, the best element of the British and Irish Lions
One possible decision that could be made would be to postpone the tour until next year, with the event being held in the summer of 2022.
This, however, would cause huge logistical problems for international sides with South Africa due to face Wales on a tour in that period, with England travelling to Australia and Ireland to New Zealand.
The implications of moving the tour by a year would have far-reaching consequences for the tournament organisers who would be hit hard financially by such a decision. It also would raise the added issue of the tour being held a year out from the 2023 World Cup in France, something that would not be ideal for any nations.
This has raised dire concerns that the tour could be scrapped altogether in a move that would be crippling for the British and Irish Lions financially.
This once seemed like an unthinkable scenario – but with recent developments it is very quickly becoming a depressing reality.
Moving the tour back by a year could cause problems for Warren Gatland in his role
Another problem that could arise from the tour being moved back by a year would be the job predicament that head coach Warren Gatland would find himself in with the former Wales boss set to continue his coaching role with the Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand.
There has already been huge support for the tour to South Africa with tour packages selling out in record numbers since. It is reported that the same level of packages that were sold for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013 took just one day to sell out this time around.
It is also stated that two of the test matches for the three-game series sold out in record time with large swathes of fans expected to make the journey southwards to the home of the reigning world champions, South Africa.
The British and Irish Lions without the travelling fans would be unthinkable.
Warren Gatland is set to visit South Africa next month to prepare for the tour but that trip is itself being hampered by travel restrictions.
Rugby Onslaught will keep you updated on this fast-moving story as it develops.
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