The Board of the British and Irish Lions will meet later today to make a decision on whether to cancel the 2021 Tour to South Africa, host it instead around Britain and Ireland, or delay making a decision for another short while.
The reality is that with international travel still a long way short of a return to normal, and all of the elements of the international public health picture needing to improve dramatically, the prospect of a regular tour look slim.
In a bizarre interview with the Irish Independent today, former lions and Ireland Captain Willie John McBride has said that it would be ‘a disgrace’ to play the games on home soil.
“It would defeat the entire ethos of the Lions if they play a few games here in the home countries. It will defeat everything the Lions stands for. It is not a Lions tour or a Lions concept of any sorts to play anything here in the home countries.”
Bearing in mind that respect for greats of the past is something that should broadly be seen as a good thing, this intervention indicates a break with reality from the changed world in which we are living.
McBride goes on to suggest that a one year or even a three-year postponement would be better, though whether that view would be shared by the players who would miss out, the fans who are craving sport regardless of whether they can attend in person, or the Unions who will be trying to build a coherent calendar in the midst of enormous upheaval, would be open to some doubt.
In fact, it would be open to a lot of doubt.
The suggestion harks back to the days perhaps of Gentlemen Players and ‘jolly good fun’ on tour and is completely missing the modern need for competition to feed the machine of a professional sport followed by millions of fans around the world as opposed to a small coterie of those who once played in nice schools.
It should also be borne in mind that McBride led the Lions on the so-called ‘Invincibles’ Tour of South Africa in the same year, 1974, as South Africa was excluded from the United Nations for the ‘crime against humanity’ that was apartheid.
Rugby has come a long way in terms of adapting to the modern age of sponsorship, fan engagement, broadcast media and professional teams. The spread of fans is wider than ever before, the spread of players and their connection to different communities has also come a long way.
In Ireland Vodafone and the IRFU, the provinces and Bank of Ireland, have all invested heavily to make Rugby a sport for all of the people. To step back now and insist on the Lions being no more than a relic of bygone days, would be a grave disappointment.
As a student and lover of history, the values it once held so dear are important to remember but history is something to learn from, as opposed to live in.
If a tour is impossible to plan with confidence and the option of a once-off series of games against the reigning World Champion where regular fans can attend without spending tens of thousands for a trip that is beyond the means of most, then that is what should happen.
Sport for Business Partners