SA Rugby lobbying hard for fans in stadia during Lions tour

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South Africa’s economy is set to lose 6.6 billion rand ($453 million) if this year’s British & Irish Lions tour goes ahead without fans, according to a study commissioned by SA Rugby, which admits it will “do anything” to get some supporters into stadia.

The Lions are set to tour South Africa for eight matches, including three tests against the world champion Springboks, between July 3-August 7, but at this stage games will go ahead behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pace of vaccination in Africa’s most industrialised nation has been slow, with health experts, trade unions and businesses urging the government to speed up once more supplies become available. SA Rugby is counting the cost too.

“We have pulled out all stops and we are lobbying government,” SA Rugby president Mark Alexander told the Sport24 website on Tuesday.

“I’ll do anything we need to do to get (supporters into stadiums). It’s a process and you don’t know how long that process will take, that’s the problem.

“We need to have this tournament (the Lions tour with fans) in South Africa and if we don’t, there could be 10,000 jobs lost through retrenchments.”

Alexander says they have presented various ideas to government on a way forward, including crowd-funding to pay for the wide-spread distribution of vaccines in the coming months.

“We looked at a number of things to assist government in raising funds to pay for the vaccine. We like the crowdfunding thing and we wanted to start a campaign to raise money. We all have to chip in, in some kind of way,” Alexander said.

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“We also proposed stringent controls around stadiums. We have testing before the game and people coming with their vaccine or health passports.

“You have a 90,000-seater stadium (in Johannesburg). If you have a minimum number of seats between each person, you’re covered.”

Cash-strapped SA Rugby shaved 1.2-billion rand from its budget in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic, and is banking on the Lions tour to generate much-needed revenue this year or face further cost-cutting.

($1 = 14.5769 rand)

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