South Africa planning to stage British & Irish Lions tour without spectators

South Africa are planning for all matches of the British & Irish Lions tour to be played behind closed doors, but have not given up hope that some spectators will be present.

Warren Gatland, head coach of the British & Irish Lions. Picture: Dan Sheridan/Getty Images

A revised schedule for the eight fixtures has been published, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing adjustments to be made to the original itinerary that reduce travel and create stable team bases.

All games will be staged in Gauteng or Cape Town and there is one change in opposition, with the Emirates Lions replacing the SA Invitational team in the tour opener on July 3.

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And in a new development, SA Rugby has announced that the games, including the three-Test series against the Springboks, are being organised on the basis they will take place without fans.

“We are hopeful that restrictions on attendance at sports events will be relaxed but, for the moment, we are planning for an event behind closed doors,” SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said.

“If that requirement changes, then we’ll assess the options available and make the necessary decisions based on the restrictions in place.”

Ticket holders for the original schedule will receive a full refund while South African residents who have tickets will be given first refusal on buying seats for the new itinerary, if restrictions on attendance are lifted.

It confirms that Lions fans will not be able to travel to South Africa as part of any tour packages.

The pre-tour warm-up Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 will proceed as scheduled, but a decision on the size of the crowd will be made closer to the time.

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“We’re delighted to be able to finally confirm the revised schedule after months of scenario planning and shifting circumstances,” Roux said.

“It has been a challenging process with dozens of variables to consider but we believe we have arrived at a schedule that minimises the risks associated with the pandemic.

“This is not the Lions series we imagined when we started our planning more than two and a half years ago but, in the circumstances, I think it is an exciting prospect.

“After all the uncertainty it’s a relief to be able to put a stake in the ground and confirm what the series will look like.

“The scenarios changed on a weekly basis, with options on three different continents workshopped and interrogated over the past few months to reach this point.

“Throughout we have had a single-minded goal to ensure the series went ahead. We’re now ready to deliver the series.”

Revised Lions schedule:

Saturday 3 July: Emirates Lions v British & Irish Lions (Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg) 17h00 (BST)

Wednesday 7 July: Cell C Sharks v British & Irish Lions (Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg) 19h00 (BST)

Saturday 10 July: Vodacom Bulls v British & Irish Lions (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria) 17h00 (BST)

Wednesday 14 July: South Africa ‘A’ v British & Irish Lions (Cape Town Stadium) 19h00 (BST)

Saturday 17 July: DHL Stormers v British & Irish Lions (Cape Town Stadium) 17h00 (BST)

Saturday 24 July: Springboks v British & Irish Lions (1st Test, Cape Town Stadium) 17h00 (BST)

Saturday 31 July: Springboks v British & Irish Lions (2nd Test, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg) 17h00 (BST)

Saturday 7 Aug: Springboks v British & Irish Lions (3rd Test, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg) 17h00 (BST)

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