CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) – The British and Irish Lions will play in just three cities on their tour of South Africa to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and there will almost certainly be no fans in none of the games for the first time in the Lions’ 133-year history, the two teams said Friday.
The announcement at least confirmed that the tour will continue into July and August with the Lions playing eight games, including three tests against reigning world champion Springboks.
But seven of the eight games will now be played in Johannesburg or Cape Town, the others in Pretoria. Due to the virus, the Lions will not travel to Durban, Port Elizabeth or Nelspruit.
The series of tests will also have an unusual ending: the first test will now take place in Cape Town and the second and third consecutive tests in Johannesburg at the 95,000-seat FNB stadium. It’s ready to be empty for the Lions.
SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said he hoped the South African government would ease some restrictions on returning supporters to sports stadiums by July “but, for now, we are planning an event. in camera.”
The chance that there are fans at the games is almost nil. South Africa has not allowed any spectators to participate in a top-level sporting event since the start of the pandemic and is expected to experience a third wave of viral infections in the coming weeks, experts say. This would likely last through the southern hemisphere winter months, June and July. The Lions six-week tour begins July 3.
Not having fans will take away much of the spirit and color that characterizes Lions tours.
The Lions regularly take tens of thousands of their supporters with them on their tours every four years in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia. The team, made up of players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, have been on tour since 1888. And the loud but friendly presence of their fans has been a key part of the atmosphere at the toured over the past decades, another thing now lost due to the pandemic. .
“While things will undoubtedly be different from a typical Lions tour… we are determined to deliver an uninterrupted series for the players who take over, as well as the millions of people watching at home,” said the manager. General of the British and Irish Lions, Ben Dit Calveley. “We would like to thank all Lions supporters for their patience and understanding as we continue to navigate our way through the impact of the pandemic.”
South Africa has over 1.5 million confirmed cases and more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19, and a variant of the virus that is said to be more contagious and which has led the Australian cricket team to cancel a tour altogether in South Africa this year.
The decision to base the Lions in two centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town was “to minimize the risk of disruption that could be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the teams said.
The 37-player Lions team, as well as coaching and backstage staff will now be able to stay in organic bubbles at two hotels, one in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town. They can get to the Pretoria game by bus from Johannesburg, about a 40-minute drive away.
Critically, they’ll only need two internal flights and not all six, at least they should have taken extra road trips and more hotel stays to visit other cities on the original schedule. This will minimize their time in public spaces like airports and in many hotels, thereby minimizing their possible exposure to the virus.
SA Rugby has called off one of the Lions’ scheduled matches, against an invitational team that would have had players from all over South Africa, and replaced it with a match against a Johannesburg-based national team. This was “to reduce the risks associated with recruiting a team from across the country,” SA Rugby said.
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