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The British & Irish Lions tour saved South African Rugby

By Ian Cameron
British and Irish Lions' centre Owen Farrell (C) celebrates with teammates after victory in the first rugby union Test match between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions at The Cape Town Stadium (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

SA Rugby would have had to close its doors if were not for the British & Irish Lions tour last year.


Despite no crowds being in attendance for the tour, the union were able to break even in 2021 after 12 months of pandemic chaos.

Today SA Rugby reported a modest profit of 9 million rand (£450k) for 2021.

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We are joined by Springbok rugby royalty with very special guest Siya Kolisi | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 31
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We are joined by Springbok rugby royalty with very special guest Siya Kolisi | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 31

With the exception of the Springbok Women’s Sevens and SA Schools teams, all South African national teams resumed competition in the 2021 season following a year-long hiatus. In 2020, the Springboks, Springbok Women, and age-group teams were all inactive, with the Springbok Sevens squad making only four appearances before the epidemic struck.

The Lions tour gave the union crucial television rights revenue, while giving them a platform to avail of sponsorship opportunities. Broadcast income climbed from R417 million in 2020 to R655 million in 2020, while sponsorship income increased to R329 million when the net income from the Castle Lager Lions Series was added to existing sponsorship contracts for a total of R282m in 2021.

Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby said that if were not for the visit of the Lions, which at one point looked set to be scrapped, the union would have not have been able to keep its doors open.

“The return to play of the Springboks and the delivery of the Castle Lager Lions Series were critical to the survival of the sport in 2021,” said Roux.


“Had we not been able to deliver those events we would have been closing rugby’s doors by year end.

“Having said that, the fact that the pandemic prevented the attendance of supporters at Springbok Tests and at provincial matches means the sport remains in a precarious position.

“Last year (2021) was supposed to be the year that we built up reserves from the windfall of a British & Irish Lions tour; COVID-19 denied us that opportunity. The tour meant we were able to break-even but if we are hit by an event of a similar magnitude, we have zero reserves to weather it.”

Moreover, the return to rugby in 2021 couldn’t have come a day later.


Roux explicitly thanked SA Rugby’s broadcast and commercial partners for their continued support.

“It was gratifying to see income return to 2019 levels, but we should have been far ahead of those numbers in 2021 – both from the Lions Series and from increased values in renewals and without reductions that were amoritsed into existing agreements,” he said.

“Our provinces were only allowed to host 2,000 spectators from October, and, like all businesses, we have had the additional cost burden of applying COVID-19 protocols. Financial sustainability remains a pressing concern for the sport.”

President Mark Alexander noted: “This has been an extraordinary year due primarily to Covid, and though the threat to rugby has not diminished, we remain hopeful that the national vaccination programme will allow society and our sport to gradually return to normal.

“While we cannot yet take anything for granted, we will continue to work towards the return to vibrant grassroots activity on and off the pitches in our schools and clubs, and for the return of spectators in the professional game, which will secure the financial underpinning of rugby.”


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