British & Irish Lions

British & Lions tour to SA is ON! Here are 5 things you need to know

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Tuesday's announcement that this year's British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa is set to go ahead as planned seems like fantastic news on the surface, but there is still a lot that remains uncertain. 

As recently as a week ago, it looked as if the UK was poised to host the tour with South Africa having only recently started its vaccination rollouts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. 

This latest development, however, confirms that a European-based series is no longer on the table and the series is going to happen in South Africa. 

Here, we look at some of the major talking points to have emerged since Tuesday's announcement.  

1. Original schedule 'subject to review'

The British Lions are due to take on the Stormers at Cape Town Stadium on July 3 in what will be the first match of their tour. In addition to the three Test matches against the Springboks from 27 July to 7 August, the Lions are due to play five other matches against various South African opposition for a total of eight matches.  

That could change now, particularly if spectators are not allowed in stadiums. 

"Should any changes be required they will be communicated as soon as possible," SA Rugby's statement on Tuesday read. 

2. Will fans be allowed in stadiums?

This, really, is the question on everybody's minds now that the tour has been confirmed for South Africa and, at this stage, there is no clear answer. 

SA Rugby and its president Mark Alexander are working extremely closely with government and making every effort to secure live attendance for the matches, but it looks a long shot given how slowly the country is moving with its vaccination rollouts and considering that a third wave of the pandemic is expected over the winter. 

It was reported over the weekend that Alexander would be satisfied with securing a 50% attendance at the venues, but he was clear in his stance on Tuesday that spectators at stadiums was imperative for the Lions tour to be a success. 

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners," he said. 

3. What if I have bought tickets already and then my match is scrapped, or no fans are allowed?

Anyone who has purchased tickets already through the ballot system will be fully refunded if they are not allowed to attend their match. The same applies to any spectators who have purchased SA Rugby Travel packages for the tour. As soon as SA Rugby knows what the situation is with how many spectators, if any, will be allowed into the stadiums, they will start the process of informing those who have already purchased tickets of the outcomes. 

4. What happens if the tour can't go on this year? 

If the tour happens behind closed doors, it will still be lucrative from a broadcast deals, advertising, and sponsorships perspective. SA Rugby and the South African economy, however, will lose millions without the influx of foreign and local spend in terms of spectators. 

Still, a tour behind closed doors is better than no tour at all. 

If the third wave of the virus sees the tour scrapped completely - an unlikely outcome - then South Africa runs the risk of losing out completely. 

The words of RFU CEO Bill Sweeney earlier on Tuesday made that quite clear: "If South Africa cannot host then the agreement is probably off. We'd be looking to play in 2025."

5. This decision comes from the Lions as much as SA Rugby

While the tour is a joint commercial venture between SA Rugby and the British Lions, the decision not to play in the UK was very clearly one that came from the Lions. 

That part of the world has its own serious coronavirus problems and there was no guarantee that fans there would be allowed into stadiums either. 

This way, the Lions and the UK avoids all the risks - financial and otherwise - that come with staging this tour. 

"The Lions Board confirmed its preference to SA Rugby on Monday evening, prior to follow-up meetings earlier today," the SA Rugby statement read. 

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the Board’s intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," added Jason Leonard, Chairman of The British & Irish Lions.

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