Tuesday 12 December 2017

Lions can hold their own in schedule restructure, insists chief

Feehan: Lions have their place. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Feehan: Lions have their place. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Lions have been caught in the cross-fire of the seemingly eternal power struggle between the unions and clubs in recent times, but chief executive John Feehan believes their place in the calendar is safe.

With no global calendar set beyond the 2019 World Cup and discussions on the future make-up of the season soon to get underway, the lengthy four-yearly tour has been targeted by Premiership clubs, who are looking to make room on the schedule amid calls for better player welfare.

Yet Feehan, who is also the chief executive of the Six Nations, appears unperturbed by the threat to the institution beyond next year's tour given its huge commercial success both in Europe and, crucially, for the nations who welcome the tourists every four years.

He does not have a seat at the World Rugby discussion table, but the Lions are represented by the unions in talks.

"There will be Lions tours and how it fits into the structure within the season is largely down those discussions, but I wouldn't see it changing hugely at this stage," Feehan said.

"There will have to be some adaptation and change, but almost every single (aspect) of rugby has to adapt or change a little bit.

"Nothing is set in stone, we'd like it to be and it probably will be. It's logical.

"One good thing about a Lions tour is that it happens at a time in the sporting season where it's not up against a World Cup, an Olympics - it has its own slot.

"There are a lot of pressures on the clubs and the unions. When we negotiate these things going forward we will find a way. The Lions are too important not to allow them to happen."

Feehan, who also defended the length of the tour, says the impact of Brexit has detrimentally affected the Lions' bottom line this year due to a fall in sterling which has hit their operating costs.

He is predicting that more than 30,000 fans will make the trip and, with just 8,000 tickets allocated to away fans for each Test, there will be huge demands for tickets, with hosts New Zealand expecting to sell out all of the games.

Although the playing squad won't be finalised until April, Feehan will work towards a financial package with players' representatives in the coming months.

In 2013, the players were reported to have shared in a £2.3m bonus package after securing the series against Australia.

"The players are all treated exactly the same," Feehan said.

"The remuneration package is handled through their representative body, in this case generally Damian Hopley (Rugby Players Association) in association with the other heads in other countries. We agree a contract with them.

"Quite literally we have six weeks to turn these things around from the time the squad is announced.

"The ethos of the Lions is that they're all treated exactly the same, whether they're the captain or an uncapped player.

"I've done the last three tours and they don't radically change. The numbers change. They get a bit more detailed. More aspects are brought into it. Insurance is a key part. You don't rewrite the book, you redraft it."

Irish Independent

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