UK Government backs bid for home Lions series to ‘save the union’
The UK Government has backed a bid for a home Lions series against South Africa to “save the union”, it has been reported.
The Treasury initially rejected a request from the British & Irish Lions for financial guarantees for the series, but there been a significant shift in favour among members of the cabinet, according to The Times.
It wants rugby matches to be played in England, Scotland and Wales, and possibly Northern Ireland too because it views them as a “uniting force” in the face of calls for secession from the UK.
But a Whitehall source said that such a series is still not viewed as “ideal”.
The Lions have accepted there is no chance of playing in South Africa as was initially planned this summer because of the ongoing Covid-19 situation.
The home series option would be four Tests and other games, which would potentially involve the Barbarians, Japan and the United States.
Lions would need stadiums to be at 25 per cent capacity or more for the series to be financially viable and have asked the UK Government to guarantee to underwrite any potential shortfall.
Oliver Dowden, the UK Government’s culture secretary, has been making the case for the guarantees to be given to the Lions.
It is on the understanding that it is low-risk in terms of the roadmap for the return of fans, not prohibitively expensive in the scheme of rescue packages for sport.
It is also thought it would provide a welcome boost for the hard-hit hospitality industry if and when pubs reopen this summer.
A Whitehall source told the Times: “Ministers understand that having a home Lions series is not ideal.
“This would not be trying to change the nature of the tour but recognising these are unprecedented times. It’s a one-off so let’s embrace it and potentially give a massive boost to the pub and hospitality industry at the same time.”