Lions rugby tour in jeopardy as coronavirus cases spike in South Africa and Britain

English newspapers are reporting that the chances of the British and Irish Lions’ 2021 tour of South Africa are looking bleak with a decision set to be made in February.

Kiwi coach Warren Gatland was due to guide the Lions in eight games in South Africa – including three tests against the world champion Springboks in July and early August.

However, new strains of Covid-19 infection rates in both South Africa and Britain and Ireland and ongoing international travel restrictions mean the tournament is now in jeopardy.

Lions managing director Ben Calveley said the Lions board would monitor the situation at meetings in January and February before making a final decision.

“As you would expect, we are progressing with our plans based on the latest information available to us,” Calveley said on the Lions’ website.

“However, given the uncertainty that continues to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic both in South Africa, as well as the UK and Ireland, we are very aware of the need to make a timely decision on the best way forward; not least so that we can provide clarity to supporters booked to travel to South Africa next summer, or those thinking of making the trip.’’

Calveley said Lions officials would continue to consult with South Africa Rugby and the British High Commission and Irish Embassy in South Africa “to ascertain as much information as possible on this fast-evolving, complex situation’’.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the tour “has been plunged into doubt’’ while The Times claimed “the prospects look bleak’’ and the Daily Mail said “the outlook for the tour appears to have deteriorated alarmingly in the last fortnight’’.

South Africa has now registered over one million Covid-19 cases and direct flights between there and Britain have been blocked.

The Lions last toured in 2017 to New Zealand where they drew a three-test series with the All Blacks.

Last October, Calveley reported the level of interest in the Lions’ 2021 tour was “approximately five times higher than what we’ve had on previous tours’’.

“We sold the level of packages that we sold for the Australia (2013) tour within one day of going on sale, and I think it took a week to get beyond the number of packages that were sold for the New Zealand (2017) tour,’’ he told the Daily Mail.

“Two of the test matches sold out in record time - they were gone within an hour of going on sale - and the third test, because it's played in a great big 92,000-seat venue at Soccer City, took a little bit longer; about a couple of days. But all of them sold out and are very heavily over-subscribed. Those numbers suggest that not only is the interest there but people intend to travel in their droves.”