EXCLUSIVE: Lions 'Red Army' unable to go on tour of South Africa

Lions ‘Red Army’ of travelling fans can’t go on tour of world champions South Africa as their tickets have now been CANCELLED – with only small local crowds expected at the three Tests

  • Sportsmail understands that tickets for original fixtures have been cancelled
  • The Lions will have to take on South Africa without the backing of their fans 
  •  Sources have revealed authorities are preparing for reduced capacities  

The Lions will have to take on the might of world champions South Africa without the backing of their famous ‘Red Army’ of travelling fans this summer.

Sportsmail understands that tickets for the original fixtures have now been cancelled and new tickets will be issued once the revised itinerary is confirmed and the South African government have finalised their policy on crowds.

Well-placed sources have revealed that the authorities are preparing for significantly reduced capacities and local spectators only. This removes any remaining hope of some travelling support for the Lions, in keeping with the proud tradition of rugby’s professional era.

Sportsmail understands that tickets for the original fixtures have now been cancelled

Just a few weeks ago, the last official update was that there remained an outside chance of some supporters being permitted to travel from the UK and Ireland for the tour, culminating in three Tests against the Springboks. That optimistic scenario now appears to have been shattered.

Until the COVID pandemic savagely impacted on the event, there were estimates that 35,000 fans would make the journey from the home nations to watch Warren Gatland’s side take on the Boks. 

It would have been the continuation of what has become a remarkable sporting phenomenon – which has seen the Lions receive mass, fervent support on the other side of the world.

In 2001, captain Martin Johnson informed his team-mates to prepare for what amounted to a home game, before the Lions beat Australia in front of vast swathes of red shirts, dominating the stands at the Gabba in Brisbane. 

Local authorities are preparing for reduced capacities with local South Africa fans only

On the last tour of South Africa, in 2009, local officials were stunned by the sudden invasion of the Red Army for the series opener in Durban, while four years ago, the British and Irish hordes appeared to out-number Kiwis in Wellington as the Lions inflicted the All Blacks’ first home defeat since 2009.

The 2021 tour was meant to have delivered a profound financial boost to South Africa’s rugby community and wider economy, but instead they are having to desperately seek a tiny return on having the Lions in their country. 

Sportsmail understands that that will mean the last two Tests take place in the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium in Soweto – in order to maximise ticket sales, even if the massive arena used for the 2010 Football World Cup Final has to be half or two-thirds empty.

Gatland is due to name his 36-man tour squad next Thursday and will be nervously awaiting updates on George North, who suffered a leg injury playing for the Ospreys against Cardiff last weekend. The veteran Wales back has had a scan and is due to receive specialist advice in the next few days.

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