The Lions and SA Rugby have confirmed their intention to proceed with the 2021 Lions Tour in South Africa, as originally planned. 

It had been widely speculated that the test series would be moved to the UK in light of the Covid-19 pandemic but RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney indicated earlier on Tuesday that this contingency now appears to be increasingly unviable and that the tour would be cancelled if South Africa were unable to host it.

This afternoon, Lions chairman Jason Leonard said that having reviewed the various contingency plans, they now intended to proceed with the tour to South Africa beginning in July as planned. 

"After reviewing information relating to the various contingency scenarios being considered, I can confirm that the Board's intended position is for the Tour to go ahead as scheduled in South Africa in 2021," said Leonard.

"We acknowledge that there is a significant amount of work still to be undertaken to deliver a robust COVID-19 countermeasure plan to ensure a successful, safe and uninterrupted Tour. SA Rugby will have our full support to help implement this plan."

Mark Alexander, President of the SA Rugby, said he would inform the Executive Council of the South African Rugby Union of the alignment.

"We appreciate the Lions’ faith and share their desire to see a safe and successful tour," said Alexander.

"We have been in regular contact with our government to make that a reality against the backdrop of the pandemic and its predicted progression over the coming months.

"There are serious financial implications for SA Rugby, should the event take place without any supporters in attendance, and we cannot ignore that in our considerations. But we are determined that the eventual outcome will deliver the best occasion and experience for players, supporters and our commercial partners."

Alexander said the original tour schedule was subject to review because of those considerations. Should any changes be required they will be communicated as soon as possible.

Leonard added: "Every British and Irish player dreams of wearing the famous red jersey, and players from the southern hemisphere aspire to be part of a Lions series. We owe it to the current players vying for a place in both squads to ensure they can become part of Lions history. 

"We are very much looking forward to taking on South Africa for what promises to be a highly-competitive Series against the reigning World Champions."

In their statement, the Lions made clear it remains uncertain whether supporters will be allowed into stadiums in South Africa. 

It is still not yet known whether international or cross-border travel for supporters will be possible into the country in July. 

The statement said that supporters "who have purchased ticket-inclusive packages through Lions Rugby Travel will be notified directly via email with information on the options available."

While there is now a clear path for the tour to proceed, Sweeney made it clear that, if South Africa are unable to host, then it will be cancelled.

A guarantee the country is able to stage it has yet to be given amid fears that a third wave of coronavirus will begin in June, shortly before the Lions touch down for their battle with the world champions.

South Africa have been slow in their vaccine roll out and there are cost implications for the hosts if they are unable to welcome fans into stadiums.

"If you look at the original agreement it says South Africa have an obligation to host the tour in South Africa and the Lions have an obligation to turn up and play," Sweeney said.

"No one has ever said that can't be fulfilled. What we’re now saying is, 'Can we have absolute clarity on that, can you still host the Lions tour?’

"We believe they’re saying they can. That needs to be cleared up in the next couple of days. We’re hoping to get some clarity around that in the course of this week.

"If they can’t host it then the agreement is off. We’ve probably run out of time on the UK. So you’re looking at playing in 2025."