British and Irish rugby fans have been given hope that limited numbers may be allowed to travel to South Africa to support the Lions — although there is still a risk that the tour might not happen.
With three months until the first fixture is due to take place, Lions officials remain in the dark about how events will pan out. Late last month, they decided to push ahead with the tour — after staging home fixtures against the Springboks was considered as a back-up — but now frantic efforts are being made to re-confirm the schedule and clarify Covid-19 protocols.
The best-case scenario is that the tour is played in full, with all eight fixtures taking place in front of spectators around South Africa — depending on the guidelines imposed by the Government there.
There is still hope that British and Irish fans can travel to South Africa for the Lions tour
There is still a risk that the tour might not go ahead as a result of the coronavirus crisis
Asked if there is still any chance of some supporters from these islands being allowed to attend the matches, Lions chairman Jason Leonard said: ‘Definitely. We’re hoping that there will be crowds but we don’t know what level that will be.
‘We would hope that would be UK and Ireland fans as well, but, because it’s so fluid, we can’t say that at this moment. We’re hoping as we move down the line, in a few months’ time, that could well be possible.
‘Everyone involved would obviously love fans in the stadium — our fans as well, not just the South African fans.
‘We are still a few months away and we’re hoping that this could take place in front of some spectators. ‘The alternative is no Lions tour and a Lions tour with no fans is better than no tour at all. It is pretty simple.’
Unfortunately for all involved in the contingency planning process, there is still so much doubt about everything from venues and finalised fixtures to Covid ‘bubble’ restrictions and whether or not crowds will be permitted.
There is still no absolute assurance that the whole event will happen at all, such is the volatility of the pandemic situation.
While Leonard insisted that pressing ahead with a tour was ‘not a gamble’, he was asked about the possibility of cancellation and said: ‘We will obviously have at the back of our minds, there is a possibility.
There had previously been some talk that the Lions could host matches against South Africa
‘The pandemic has created an enormous amount of uncertainty in that aspect so we have to recognise it could be a possibility, but we are not thinking about that. We are determined to help South Africa with the tour and go forward.’
Encapsulating the ongoing lack of clarity, Leonard added: ‘The only thing that’s 100 per cent is that we’re not going to have a traditional Lions tour in whatever shape or form. We won’t get the tour we want, South Africa won’t get the tour they want, the players most probably won’t get the tour they want, the fans won’t get the fan experience they want.’
One man still desperate to go on the tour is Hamish Watson and the Scotland flanker’s squad selection cause was enhanced when he was named Six Nations Player of the Championship. The 29-year-old received 35 per cent of more than 125,000 public votes to claim the prize ahead of the 2020 winner, France scrum-half Antoine Dupont.