SA Rugby allay fears around the potential cancellation of British and Irish Lions tour
The cancellation of next year’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa is a prospect too ghastly to contemplate.
The country‚ according to an independent study‚ can potentially benefit from a R6.5 billion shot in the arm from the tour‚ and will throw SA Rugby‚ already treading water‚ a timely lifeline.
Lions tours are huge money spinners as up to 40,000 travelling spectators pound cash registers on their quadrennial crusade.
In 2017 New Zealand Rugby (NZL) reported record profits on the back of the Lions’ tour of that country amassing R371m.
Moreover‚ the tour contributed R2.72 billion to New Zealand’s GDP.
In 2013 the Lions’ tour of Australia contributed R1.77 billion to the Australian economy.
Whether South Africa can rake in the profits as were originally estimated is moot in a post Covid-19 environment where air travel may warrant second thought.
Last weekend it was suggested the tour may be in jeopardy but SA Rugby president Mark Alexander was quick to allay those fears.
“The date might change but it will go ahead. It is important to the country. The country stands to make R6.5 billion as a direct result of the tour‚” he said optimistically.
Already newly re-elected World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont indicated the annual two Test windows may run back-to-back next year as the world recovers from the fall-out of Covid-19.
A new global calendar is also expected to kick into action in the aftermath of the pandemic.
By moving the British and Irish Lions tour from its July 3 to August 21 slot‚ rugby bosses will also avoid clashing with the Tokyo Olympic Games‚ another quadrennial spectacle that’s in the balance.
By moving the tour to September and October organisers may also convince more fans to make the trip to a distinctly warmer climate.
SA Rugby clearly has a lot riding on the success of next year’s tour.
Apart from the cash injection‚ Lions tours carry prestige perhaps surpassed only by the Rugby World Cup.
Principally though‚ they can do with the cash.
If the tour gets the green light the big migration south is likely to follow.
Former British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan succinctly put its value in commercial terms at the conclusion of the team’s last tour to South Africa in 2009.
“If you can persuade 40,000 people to fly 6,000 miles (9,600km) to watch a rugby team‚ that’s not a bad business model.”