Rugby Australia has offered to host this year’s British and Irish Lions series against South Africa, reports said Monday.
Fears have grown that the invitational side’s highly anticipated tour could be cancelled as South Africa’s Covid-19 cases ballooned to more than 1.4 million, with almost 45,000 deaths.
However, the virus is largely contained in Australia and Rugby Australia chief executive Hamish McLennan said it was in a position to accommodate the huge numbers of fans who flock to Lions tours.
“We really believe we could make it work. It’s good for us and it’s good for them,” he told The Australian newspaper.
“South Africa and the Lions need to continue to play Test-level rugby and it’s great for Australian rugby to have the top sides play here.”
The eight-match tour is scheduled to run from July 3 to August 7 and features three Tests between the Lions and the world champion Springboks, on July 24, July 31 and August 7.
Both sides have said they want the series to proceed in some form and Boks rugby director Rassie Erasmus said last month the South Africans “will do anything” to play the Lions.
There has been speculation matches could be played without crowds in South Africa, or played in Britain, but spiralling infection rates mean both options look remote.
McLennan said Rugby Australia would only seek to cover its costs for staging the series, meaning the Lions and South African Rugby would still split revenue from one of the most lucrative events on the rugby calendar.
“A big cheque”
“The fact that we can fill stadiums and play in relatively friendly time zones for them could deliver high benefits,” he said.
“All member unions need revenue in Covid times and I’m sure we could deliver them a big cheque at the end of the day.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported Rugby Australia was confident that staging the Lions without demanding any revenue would generate enough goodwill to ensure the success of Australia’s bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
McLennan said if Australia did host the tour, two of the three Tests were likely to be played in Perth, which has a large South African expatriate community.
Lions tours featuring players from the combined Four Nations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are held every four years, alternating between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
They traditionally attract tens of thousands of travelling Lions fans, who drown the stands of host venues in masses of red shirts.
While welcoming overseas supporters in such numbers is not currently possible, McLennan said large expat communities would ensure there were still huge crowds.
He said Australia had a proven record of hosting sporting events during the pandemic, citing the Tri-Nations rugby tournament, India’s cricket tour and the upcoming Australian Open tennis.
“No one else in the world have done it better than Australia,” he said.