Even Caged Lions not immune to virus

The British and Irish Lions have an entire hotel to themselves along with a skeleton staff who are also staying on site and not returning home for the duration of the tourists stay, at least those who have any chance of coming into contact with the players. And yet there were still a couple of positive tests. 

Across the courtyard from the hotel is the conference centre where various ‘team rooms’ and operations centres have been established. The 80+ strong entourage walk between the hotel and the other building through a ‘safe corridor’ guarded on each side by a two-metre fence and a host of security men and women. Conducting the first few interviews of the tour reminded me of my childhood visiting the Boswell Wilkie Circus where the animals would be escorted into the arena in a similar way. Happily, these Lions were entirely willing unlike the miserable, performing lions of the 1970s.

As secure as the bio-bubble looks, and I’ve seen a few now, it seems impossible to believe they can be secure. There is, and always will be, the ‘human element’. I am not talking about deliberate, calculated or cynical breaks of protocol, but instinctive decency. In order for a bio-secure bubble to have a chance of succeeding for an extended period of time, people have to be ruthless – even nasty. Some people can do it, most can’t. That’s the good thing about humanity. 

I have no desire to mention possible ‘breaches’ of the bubble I have witnessed because I may have, inadvertently, been guilty of several myself. The logistical challenges of organising separate pathways around a stadium for ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zoned personnel are impossible. I am ‘red’ because I interview the players – but traversing the other zones is unavoidable. Still, I keep my mask on at all times and stay as far away from other human beings as possible. And I’ve now had at least one full PCR test a day, two on some days.

The reverence with which a Lions Tour is regarded by the players is quite startling. Every match-day jersey is individually embroidered and obviously cherished, even the provincial matches. Scotland flanker Hamish Watson proudly displayed his on social media after the first game. 

The Covid chaos wreaked on the composition of the Lions team for the first game against the Sharks on Wednesday saw England lock Maro Itoje thrust into the match 23 in place of Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne – and he inherited his jersey, too, something he was delighted to share on Twitter. The closeness of the players, who spend four years between Lions tours in fierce competition, is quite remarkable.    

The Covid situation in Gauteng remains grim, clearly. The lampposts on the morning run made sure nobody was forgetting that. And yet the determination for the Lions tour to continue remains undiminished. Many hours in my one-man bubble allow me to monitor a vast variety of media, from social to TV and talk-radio. It’s not a precise science and I may easily have missed something, but I have yet to read or hear anything advocating a cancellation of the tour. That may change, of course.

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