Rugby legend Jason Leonard has confirmed that the British and Irish Lions will tour to South Africa as planned this summer.
In a remarkable turn of events, the Lions have binned contingency plans to stage the tour in the UK and Ireland.
Instead they have thrown their full support behind going to a country which is fearful of a third wave of covid infections and which has barely started to vaccinate its population.
Lions chairman Leonard said: “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.
“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.”
No final decision has been made on whether fans will be allowed to travel but it is thought highly unlikely.
Mark Alexander, President of the SA Rugby, said: “We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour.
“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.”
Alexander said the original tour schedule was subject to review because of those considerations. Should any changes be required they will be communicated “as soon as possible”.
The Lions’ Test against Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 will also go ahead as scheduled. A decision on crowd size will be made nearer the time in line with latest UK Government guidance.