The 2021 British and Irish Lions tour could feature evening kick-offs in the United Kingdom for the first time after it was confirmed that the schedule will seek to avoid any clash with the rearranged Olympic Games.
Tokyo 2020 was forced to postpone this summer’s Olympics due to the outbreak of coronavirus, which has not only claimed nearly all sports events this summer but has forced the sporting calendar into major restructuring that stretches well beyond this year.
Rugby union is currently sitting on the completion of the Six Nations with four games left to be played from this winter’s championship, while all professional leagues have been put on hold in the hope of resuming in the coming months.
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However, the delay will see a heavily-affected 2020/21 campaign, which culminates in the Lions tour of South Africa beginning on 3 July with a three-Test series against the Springboks kicking off on 24 July on consecutive Saturdays.
The International Olympic Committee announced alongside the Tokyo 2020 organising committee that the rescheduled Games in Tokyo will begin on 23 July, with action getting underway on the same day as the first Lions Test, meaning all three matches will clash with the global gathering in Japan.
Tours of New Zealand and Australia feature night-time kick-offs to cater for the British market, resulting in an early-morning kick-off for those back home in the UK and Ireland, while previous tours in South Africa see a mid-afternoon kick-off. But to ensure there will be no clash with the Olympics, the 2021 tour will see games get underway at 6pm local time, meaning a 5pm start in the UK and Ireland.
Ben Calveley, managing director of the British and Irish Lions, told The Telegraph: “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.”
Kick-off times are yet to be announced by the South African Rugby Union, and a decision was taken to delay ticket sales from April until July as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, with an emphasis put on the Covid-19 pandemic rather than sport.
“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,” added Calveley.
“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. The priority right now has to be the safety and wellbeing of all those affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic.”
One potential issue that looks unavoidable though is the fact that players involved in the Lions series for South Africa will be ineligible for the Tokyo Olympics sevens team. 2019 Rugby World Cup-winner Cheslin Kolbe was part of the side that claimed the bronze medal at Rio 2016, while current squad member Kwagga Smith is a candidate for both the Springboks and the Blitzboks having featured recently in both set-ups.