Warren Gatland has admitted the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa next year could be rescheduled and delayed until later in 2021 as the sport grapples to recover from the Covid-19 lockdown.
The eight-match, three-Test tour to the home of the Springboks is currently scheduled to take place between July 3 and August 7 next year.
However, with key meetings set to take place shortly to try and work out a global calendar that aligns the northern and southern hemisphere seasons, moving the Lions tour to October 2021 has become a real possibility despite the knock-on effects this would have for the tens of thousands of fans from the four home unions who have already been preparing for a July/August tour.
Jurie Roux, the SA Rugby CEO, confirmed last Monday that a move to host the tour later in the year was being considered. “The development of the pandemic and its varying impact around the world has made for a fluid situation and we have had to be responsive in our planning,” he explained.
“That means we have looked at several contingencies around scheduling. We have those scenarios in place, but the main question now is when it will be safe for international travel and mass gatherings.
“It would be a disappointment if a Lions series had to be played behind closed doors, but that is not a scenario for which we are currently planning.”
Now Lions coach Gatland, whose current Chiefs team opens its Super Rugby Aotearoa schedule away to the Highlanders on Saturday, has admitted that flexibility will be required regarding the 2021 schedule.
Speaking on BBC 5 Live Breakfast, Gatland said: “There is a Word Rugby meeting in a few days and what we are hearing is that there are four or five potential scenarios where it could be a shift for the Six Nations and a shift for the summer tours to October and into November as well and changing the start dates of the season.
“With us with the Lions, it’s just about being a little bit flexible and if we have to go back a month or so, then we can cope with that if it’s the best decision for World Rugby in terms of a global season.
“We have to be cooperative and smart about that. A lot of this has been talked about for a long time and if we can’t have a consensus now when we have got a blank piece of paper to start from then there is never going to be agreement.
“The unfortunate thing is we have a serious global crisis and sometimes that allows us to put things right in certain areas where things can be better for the future. The possibility is the game can look at itself in terms of a global structure. If we don’t do it knows we are never going to do it?”
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