South African Rugby, rugby union’s governing body in South Africa, have confirmed that the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to the Republic could be postponed.
As things stand, however, there is currently only a “slight chance” of that happening. The postponement would only be by a matter of months too.
The tour was originally scheduled to start on July 3, 2021. Three Test Matches against the Springboks had been inked in for successive weekends from July 24 onwards.
Due to the global rugby union calendar being reshaped due to the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, however, that schedule might now change.
The tour might now need to be shifted to a September/October or October/November window. This would happen if the Lions Tour was the only hindrance to the new international calendar being confirmed.
“The tour is going on and the time is still fixed on where it is, but there might be a date change,” South African Rugby CEO Jurie Roux told reporters at a press briefing.
A decision on the new global calendar for rugby union could come as soon as July 1. It is expected that mid-year internationals will be removed from the calendar for 2021.
If a decision is confirmed on July 1, then the future of the Lions trip could be decided pretty quickly.
Roux also confirmed that a new model for revenue sharing would operate when the tour goes ahead.
“We have thrown away the textbook on it,” he said.
“It is a completely different model. It is a sharing of revenue, logos and IP (intellectual property) and commercial value, and something that in a post-COVID world will help us operate as a going concern.”
Around 40,000 fans from the UK and Republic of Ireland have expressed an interest in travelling to South Africa for the tour, with 19,000 of those having paid up.
Meanwhile, some of those in authority in rugby union have hinted that Northern Hemisphere rugby could become a summer sport.
Of course, rugby league switched to summer over 20 years ago. The decision brought some benefits for league, but also disrupted the traditional pattern of tours from and to the Southern Hemisphere.
Many would argue that this has held rugby league’s international back, reducing the sport’s profile and hampering efforts to find a wider audience.
RFU chief Bill Sweeney has pointed to rugby league as an example that the 15-man code could follow when it comes to playing in the warmer part of the year.
He is part of a working group considering a vast overhaul of union’s global calendar, and moving to summer is one option that is being discussed.
“The rugby league one is interesting because I had heard continually that when they switched, they lost awareness and participation, but I spoke to them and they said it was the best thing they have ever done,” Sweeney said.