The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa will go ahead this summer despite uncertainty over whether fans will be allowed to attend.
Alternative arrangements, such as postponing the tour or playing the series in the UK or Australia, had been considered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the board’s intended position is for the tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021,” said Jason Leonard, British and Irish Lions chairman.
“We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust Covid-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan.
“We owe it to the current players vying for a place in both squads to ensure they can become part of Lions history.
“We are very much looking forward to taking on South Africa for what promises to be a highly-competitive series against the reigning world champions.”
Will the Lions tour be played in front of fans?
Although the Lions’ traditionally travelling army of fans will almost certainly be unable to follow the team, it is hoped that some spectators may be able to attend matches by the time the tour begins in July.
If the matches are played behind closed doors, fans who have bought tickets via the official Lions ticket ballot will receive refunds.
“We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.
“We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.
“There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations.
“But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners.”
The Lions’ pre-tour Test match against Japan at Murrayfield in June is also going ahead but a decision on crowd size has not yet been made.
English rugby chiefs have given their conditional backing to the Lions tour taking place.
“If it is possible, the Rugby Football Union is supportive of the Lions tour going ahead in South Africa as planned,” said a spokesperson.
“Ultimately the decision will be made by the Lions Board together with SARU, and the welfare of players will be central to any decision made.”
Despite uncertainty over arrangements for the series, the Lions have continued to sign up commercial partners including London Pride and Chase Distillery in 2021.