British & Irish Lions

How SA Rugby is 'pulling out all the stops' to have fans in stadiums for Lions tour

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SA Rugby president Mark Alexander during the South African national rugby team arrival media conference at OR Tambo International Airport on 5 November 2019 (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander during the South African national rugby team arrival media conference at OR Tambo International Airport on 5 November 2019 (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
Sydney Seshibedi
  • SA Rugby has offered to raise money for Covid-19 vaccines through crowdfunding in an attempt to get British and Irish Lions tour fans into stadiums.
  • Union president Mark Alexander has also revealed its other proposals, such as allowing vaccinated UK tourists into the country for the tour.
  • Rugby is battling financially and needs to maximise revenue for the tour, which is set for July. 

In an effort to source more Covid-19 vaccines so that some fans can attend the British and Irish Lions tour matches, besieged mother body, SA Rugby, is prepared to raise money through crowdfunding.

The plan is one of several which SA Rugby has proposed to the government, union president Mark Alexander revealed to Sport24.

Since Lions tour chiefs confirmed that the tour would go ahead in South Africa on the scheduled dates (3 July to 7 August), SA Rugby has been frantically trying to get the go-ahead for some fans to be allowed into venues.

It hopes British tourists will come to South Africa.

The UK has vaccinated more than half of its adult population with their first dosages of the vaccine, and the rollout of their second dosages is hovering at around 10%.

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SA Rugby wants these pound-spending tourists to be allowed into the country to boost not only rugby's finances, but the country's various tourist and peripheral economic sectors.

"We have pulled out all stops and we are lobbying government," Alexander told Sport24.

"I'll do anything we need to do to get [fans in stadiums]. We did an economic impact study on the British and Irish Lions tour, which measured it at R6.6 billion to our economy.

"By July, most of Britain would have had the vaccine, so if they come to South Africa, they [are less likely to] die of Covid effects.

"We also looked at a number of things to assist government in raising funds to pay for the vaccine. We like the crowdfunding thing and we wanted to start a campaign to raise money for the vaccine. We all have to chip in, in some kind of way.

"Maybe that's what we need to do to pay for the vaccine. We also proposed stringent controls around stadiums.

"We have testing before the game and people coming with their vaccine or health passports.

"You have a 90 000-seater stadium at FNB Stadium. If you have a minimum number of seats between each person, you're covered."

Recently, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) submitted various proposals to the government for spectator re-entry into stadiums.

While the Sports, Arts and Culture Ministry requested that all sports federations combine their proposals into one - Sascoc's - SA Rugby is pressed for time and is unsure when approvals, if any, will be given.

"It's [still] a process and you don't know how long that process will take; that's the problem," said Alexander.

"We presented to the Tourism Business Chamber, saying we need to have this tournament (the Lions tour) in South Africa and if we don't, there could be 10 000 jobs lost through retrenchments.

"The numbers are scary. If you look around, the hotels are closing. A lot of them never opened up again.

"We can't sustain these hard lockdowns like the first world countries can.

"What about informal traders? Tours like these generate money for people."

According to the SA Rugby impact study, the tour could generate R6.6 billion to the South African economy if it goes ahead under normal circumstances.

Aside from Lions tour losses, SA Rugby has to contend with their "Big Four" franchises possibly getting chucked out of the Rainbow Cup, as Rapport reported last Sunday.

Not only is the latest development a body blow but it puts an even heavier burden on the Lions tour generating sufficient funds to keep rugby afloat.

"We really need the fans in the stadium and for the British and Irish Lions tour to take place," Alexander added.

"In the UK, rugby got £300 million relief for their clubs. We don't have that kind of support. Our country just doesn't have the capacity to do that and we understand that.

"We cannot remain in lockdown because our economy cannot sustain it. Rugby can't sustain it.

"If we have to be locked down for the rest of the year, we will have to close the doors. Rugby, as we know it, will be gone."

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