Australia has offered to stage this year’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, which is under threat because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan said on Sunday.
The Lions are scheduled to play eight matches in South Africa, including a three-match series against the world champion Springboks, starting on July 3 in Cape Town.
Both Britain and South Africa are still firmly in the grip of the virus, however, and Lions officials are scheduled to decide this month whether to proceed with the tour or look at other options.
Australia has been relatively successful in containing the pandemic and in November and December staged the Rugby Championship, renamed the Tri-Nations, after South Africa withdrew.
“I spoke to Jurie Roux, the CEO of South African Rugby, a few weeks ago and offered to host the tournament here, considering how dire the COVID situation is in the UK and South Africa,” McLennan told Reuters.
“We learned through the Tri-Nations (that) our government can bring high-performance athletes into the country and safely quarantine them.
“Despite all the difficulties, we need to keep the world moving as best we can. So this was a lateral offer and solution to an issue those guys are facing.”
The offer was well-received, McLennan said, and there has been subsequent contact between Rugby Australia and other stakeholders in the tour. “It would actually work because there are so many UK and South African residents and expats who live out here, so we could fill stadiums,” he added.
“They may choose to go somewhere else, but the offer is there.”
Rugby Australia would expect to cover costs but beyond that any profits would go to South Africa Rugby and the Lions.
“We’re not doing this to make money,” McLennan added.
Rugby Australia have not yet confirmed their mid-year test series against France but McLennan thought both tours could be accommodated with a little flexibility.
“We’re dead keen to have France and expect them to come, we’re really looking forward to it,” he said.
“When you look at the schedules, there would be minimal overlap.”
The Lions last toured Australia in 2013, winning a thrilling test series 2-1 in front of sellout crowds, and are scheduled to return in 2025.