B&I Lions or Olympics: Tough call for SA players
REACTION: Several of South Africa’s leading players have a tough decision to make: Choose between the 15-a-side and Sevens codes.
It has been confirmed that the organisers of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa next year are not planning any changes in their fixtures – despite a direct overlap with the new dates for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Olympics have been pushed back a year due to the global coronavirus pandemic and will now start on July 23.
That is just a day before the first of three Tests between South Africa and the B&I Lions – which will see them meet in at Soccer City in Soweto (July 24), Cape Town Stadium (July 31) and Ellis Park (August 7).
It will leave players like Cheslin Kolbe and Albertus Smith (who both won bronze at the 2016 Game in Rio de Janeiro), as well as Ruhan Nel with a tricky poser.
While all three have committed fully to the 15-a-side code, they have publicly expressed interest in being part of the Olympic Games.
The change in dates means they can no longer be part of the Sevens and 15-a-side programmes.
“The priority right now has to be the safety and wellbeing of all those affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic,” Ben Calveley, British & Irish Lions Managing Director, told Reuters news agency.
“We are determined to play our part in what will be an extraordinary year of sport,” he said of 2021.
“There should not be any direct clashes with Lions matches and Olympic events given the time difference between South Africa and Tokyo, so fans should not miss out on any action.
“We are expecting a fantastic series against the world champions.”
The decision to stick to the dates of the Lions tour, which starts on July 3 with the first of five matches against provincial and invitational sides before the opening test on July 24, at least brings some welcome certainty to arguably the biggest rugby attraction outside of the World Cup.
The World Rugby calendar has many question marks remaining though, with the 2020 Six Nations yet to be completed and the July internationals for this year under threat and likely to be scrapped.
(Continue reading below video …)
* Meanwhile the ticket ballot in South Africa and the release of the ticket-inclusive supporter travel packages have been delayed.
The ticket ballots for the eagerly awaited Test series were initially due to be launched in April, with the ticket ballot in Europe set to launch in July.
In a statement it was said more information on the revised sale dates for the ticket ballots as well as the supporter travel packages will be communicated in due course via the B&I Lions and SA Rugby websites.
Supporters who have purchased the Priority Access Pass, which entitles them to first option to purchase a wide-range of ticket-inclusive holiday packages, will be contacted directly via email.
“As I am sure our supporters will understand, both unions didn’t think it appropriate to make tickets and our 2021 Tour packages available for purchase at these times,” said Calveley.
“We hope to be able to announce new sales dates in the near future, but until then we would like to wish everyone the best of health in these unprecedented times.”
Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby, said: “The British & Irish Lions Tour is a significant event for us in South Africa but we are aware everyone’s priorities are in doing everything they can to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – and we are no exception. We ask our passionate rugby supporters to please bear with us during this difficult time.”
Sources: Reuters & AAP