British and Irish Lions tour fixtures a necessity - chief executive John Feehan
The head of the British and Irish Lions has ruled out shortening future tours, and says the Lions will remain an integral part of the rugby calendar.
The 10-match schedule in New Zealand next summer has been described as "ludicrous" and "unsustainable" by leading figures in the English club game.
But chief executive John Feehan insists tours must stay at that length, and says the Lions are a "necessity" for the host countries involved.
"I think it's going to be very difficult going forward to reduce the number of games," Feehan told BBC Sport.
"We definitely need to ensure that we have at least the kind of levels of games we have at the moment."
While accepting the schedule is "not perfect", Feehan insists the Lions will remain central to discussions around a season structure post-2019.
"We need to accommodate the Lions, it's one of the biggest brands in world rugby," Feehan added.
"Our game would be much poorer if the Lions don't exist in a meaningful way. And we need to win tours to be successful.
"Is it perfect at the moment? No it's not. Will it be perfect in the future? Probably not. But can we accommodate it? Yes we can.
"All of rugby is tugging in different directions, but I am absolutely confident the Lions will be part of the structure."
Feehan feels host nations such as New Zealand, South African and Australia are indebted to the Lions, in part due to the enormous revenue the tours generate.
"It's important to us in Britain and Ireland, but for the host unions themselves, it's absolute necessity for them to have a Lions tour," Feehan said. "It means so much to them. This Lions tour next year is already sold out."
However, he accepts domestic seasons are unlikely to be shortened in length in the future in order to give the Lions extra preparation time.
The first game in New Zealand takes place the weekend after the Premiership and Pro12 finals, meaning a host of players will be unavailable for the tour opener.
"The reality is we have to be conscious of other rugby properties. We can't impose ourselves on people and restructure a whole year around a Lions tour," Feehan said.
"Would I like another two or three weeks preparation? Of course I would.
"Can we fit it into the schedule? I don't think we can. We have to be realistic about these things."
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