The British and Irish Lions have played down concerns over next year’s tour of South Africa clashing with the rescheduled Olympic Games, with evening kick-offs for the three-Test series against the Springboks ensuring no crossover with major events in Tokyo.
Tour organisers have also allayed fears revenue will be hit given broadcast contracts – including the bumper deal with Sky Sports – are all but finalised.
The International Olympic Committee on Monday confirmed the Tokyo Games will take place from 23 July to 8 August 2021. It is understood the IOC consulted with World Rugby but still opted to rearrange the Olympics to directly overlap with the Lions’ Test matches against the world champions, which are scheduled for 24 July, 31 July and 7 August.
The Olympics reserves a number of its main events for weekends, as was the case for Super Saturday at London 2012 but it is understood the three Tests are due to kick off at 6pm local time – 5pm in the UK and, crucially, 1am in Tokyo.
“The priority right now has to be the safety and wellbeing of all those affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic” said Ben Calveley, the Lions managing director. “We are determined to play our part in what will be an extraordinary summer of sport. 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.”
Last week a leading rugby administrator in South Africa claimed the Lions “could save the game” in the country given the 2017 tour ensured a profit of around £20m for New Zealand Rugby and contributed more than £100m to the country’s GDP.
While the host nation makes considerably more than its tourists, the Lions rely heavily on sponsorship income. Commercial revenues may take a hit – matching the £6m plus Standard Life paid to be the lead partner in 2017 is likely to prove difficult – but there is confidence the drop-off will not be made worse by the clash with the Tokyo Games.
On-sale dates for tickets and official travel packages have been postponed. They were due to go on sale in South Africa next month and in the UK in July but both dates have been pushed back. “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,” Calveley said. “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.”