The proposed switch of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa to the UK and Ireland has prompted a petition from an operator facing a hit of up to £4.5 million.
The rugby team was due to tour South Africa this year, but plans for the South African team to visit the UK in July this year instead are now under way. The #SAnotUK petition, led by MSG Tours, calls on the original tour to be rescheduled to 2022.
MSG Tours managing director Mark Gardner said he had 800 clients scheduled to travel to South Africa and another 200-250 registering interest pending the pandemic.
“We were very confident of 1,000 and £4-£4.5 million in revenue, which will immediately disappear if the tour goes as predicted,” he said.
Tour rotations mean the event is staged in South Africa only once every 12 years.
Opponents of the switch argue that it will deprive home fans of the chance to see games cheaply and affect UK and Ireland outbound operators, with an estimated market of 30,000 fans. They also argue the tour is worth £150 million to the South African economy.
Others affected include Qatar Airways, which had arranged charter flights from Heathrow and Birmingham, Gardner said.
“That’s how far this has gone. We’ve been working on this for over two years and we have a huge team in South Africa,” Gardner said, adding that a charity project worth a million rand (£48,000) was also riding on the tour.
The petition has now gained more than 4,300 signatures. It describes the proposals as “a watered-down alternative that focuses only on revenue for a select few beneficiaries”.
Gardner plans to present it to officials once it has reached 5,000 signatures.
He believes there is reluctance to switch the tour date so close to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but asked: “Why should the rugby performance factor come ahead of social responsibility? How have they got to a point where the outcome of a game is more important?”