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'Lions cancellation could collapse professional rugby in South Africa'

Rugby journalist Craig Ray outlined quite how crucial the money for this British and Irish Lions ...


'Lions cancellation could collapse professional rugby in South Africa'

Rugby journalist Craig Ray outlined quite how crucial the money for this British and Irish Lions tour is to the continuation of professional rugby in South Africa.

Questions remain as to the viability of a tour which has been ravaged by COVID issues, in a country which is still in the maelstrom of the pandemic.

Last week on Off The Ball, Brian O'Driscoll called the tour 'farcical' and raised concerns that a cancelled tour could bankrupt the Lions, the Springboks, or both.

Ray appeared to concur, from a South African standpoint.

Lions v South Africa

"It's broadcast money and some sponsorship money which is linked to test matches, and the Springboks playing a certain amount of test matches per year," Ray began.

"There are penalties if that doesn't happen as well. But the broadcast money is the big one, and there have been three games of this tour so far. The way I understand it is that the test matches are the absolute meat of the tour.

"If they don't go ahead, South African rugby stands to lose between 400-500m rand. To put that into context, if it is 500m rand that is about half what they would earn in turnover on a normal year, not a COVID year.

"So you throw in COVID 2020 where they basically earned no income, they lost a billion rand. You throw in 500m, that is 1.5bn and that is enough to literally collapse the professional rugby programme in South Africa.

"It will certainly mean fewer games being played and fewer contracts being handed out, it will mean a shrinking of the entire professional structure in South Africa.

"That is how dire it is."

COVID situation

Ray spoke about the reaction from the Boks' administrators and coaching staff to the outbreaks within the squad, saying they left no stone unturned.

"I know that they went over hours and hours, and days and days, of video footage to see if any players left the bubble and found nothing," Ray said of the investigation.

"Rassie Erasmus was trying to be diplomatic but seemed to be laying the blame at Georgia's door. He was saying that when they were in the bubble in Bloemfontein there wasn't a single positive case.

"When they came together and moved to Johannesburg, the only case they had was RG Snyman who had been in and out of hospital with burns, so they could put it down to that and he was isolated.

"After the Georgia game is where all the cases happened. In reality I'm not sure it's worth starting a blame game but that is the timeline they've drawn up, it sounds plausible, and they've been quite transparent in naming names of those who were positive.

"It seems like they have managed to contain it now, there were 33 players fit who left Jo'burg along with the Lions, on different flights.

"It looks like it's under control now but I'm not sure what it's doing for team morale, what the mental state of the players is and how they're feeling."

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