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Lions tour takes on extra importance as South Africa Rugby feels financial strain of COVID-19

By Chris Jones
Sam Warburton and Maro Itoje on the 2017 Lions Tour of New Zealand (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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The 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa has suddenly taken on even more financial importance for the host union with SA Rugby facing a potential £8.8million (R200m) loss if the entire season is shelved due to COVID-19.

South African rugby chiefs, who are staging a three test series with the Lions next year, are examining ways of cutting costs while rugby is unable to be played and that includes a reported 40% cut for some top Springbok players who are playing domestically.

Overseas Boks are already dealing with the financial ramifications with those in the Gallagher Premiership being furloughed to cut costs. In 2017, NZ Rugby revealed a record profit of £16m (NZ $33.4m) thanks to that year’s Lions tour.

The highest-paid World Cup winning Springboks have been warned to expect to take a sizeable pay cut if the decision is taken to suspend the 2020 season.

Player’s union MyPlayers have been in discussions with SA Rugby and the top Springboks could be asked to take a 40% pay cut according to Rapport, the Afrikaans newspaper.

“We still need to quantify the impact [of the shutdown of all rugby], and it will be based on the worst-case scenario for SA Rugby,” MyPlayers CEO Eugene Henning told the players according to the paper, which has a record of breaking big Springbok-related stories.

“The next step is to decide how much to cut salaries. It will then be submitted to players’ representatives for approval.”

Henning indicated that the highest-paid players would be asked to take the biggest cut, although some of the lower-paid players in the country’s franchise squads could be spared the financial hit.

If, as if feared, the whole South African 2020 season is lost the estimated cost is reportedly £8.8m and while there are hopes that some kind of domestic season can be staged by June to replace the suspended Super Rugby competition, nothing can be certain.

That competition would see the four Super Rugby franchise (Lions, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers) and the two Pro14 teams (Cheetahs and Kings) take part in a two-month tournament.



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