A British & Irish Lions tour only comes along once every four years and when it does it’s like a decade of Christmases all at once for rugby union fanatics. This summer the Lions are set to take on world champions South Africa in a mouth-watering three game series, which will also see the tourists take on a number of provincial sides as they warm up for the main event. However, like everything right now, the likelihood of the tour happening is in the balance. A number of options have been mooted to allow the series to go ahead, and with a decision expected before the end of the current Six Nations championship, we decided to take a look at what could happen…

Tour South Africa without fans

Despite the increasing likelihood that this year’s tour will not feature any fan involvement, the preferred option for players, purists and sponsors alike remains for the tour to continue as planned, even if played in empty stadiums. For each Lions representative it will be their one chance to pull on the famous red shirt in South Africa, with the touring side not then returning until 2033. However, South African rugby authorities have made it clear that a Lions tour with no fans wouldn’t be commercially viable.

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South Africa to tour the UK and Ireland

Despite the Lions being a touring side, this option would be the most straightforward to organise and make the most logical sense. However, there is still no guarantee that fans will be allowed back inside British stadiums come June and July. The Lions are currently set to take on Japan at Murrayfield in their first warm-up game before flying to South Africa for the eight-game tour. Twickenham and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium would be all but guaranteed to host two of the three Test Matches should it happen, and Wembley Stadium is rumoured to be being considered for the third. The UK and Ireland is blessed with many large and intimidating stadiums, but will that really matter if there’s no one inside them?

The Lions and South Africa play… in Australia

Rugby Australia threw a massive curve ball earlier this year when they offered to host this summer’s series Down Under. Though likely to be declined by Lions’ management, playing the tour in Australia would mean both Lions and South African players getting to perform in front of crowds – Australia has already hosted major sporting events such as the Tri Nations and tennis’ Australian Open in a COVID-19 world. However, Australia’s strict border controls during the pandemic would almost certainly mean there would be no travelling British, Irish or South African fans able to watch the action, leaving Australian rugby fans with a big conundrum – support a side full of Brits or a fierce Southern Hemisphere rival?

Cancel the tour

An option that strikes fear into the heart of fans and players alike, not to mention South African rugby’s bank manager. It’s believed that South Africa would prefer the tour to be moved to 2022, however World Rugby’s strict calendar may not allow this. The Home Nations will already have their summer tours planned and booked, and their respective head coaches will want this precious time with their squad ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.