- 07 Jan 2020
Australian Open chiefs are confident the tournament will go ahead following the deadly bushfires that have shocked the country.
An insistence that play at the upcoming grand slam tournament will be able to continue on air-filtered courts, if smoke sweeps across Melbourne Park, came as French Open tournament director Guy Forget said tennis must come second to the humanitarian and health crisis blighting Australia.
Over 20 people have died as a result of the fires and one expert has suggested half a billion animals may also have perished.
World number two Novak Djokovic has said it would be worth considering a delayed start to the tournament if conditions were extreme in Melbourne.
Forget, a former Australian Open quarter-finalist, told L’Equipe: “Whatever the problems a sporting event has to face, they of course go after the dramatic considerations that Australians are going through now.
“The players who compete to live out their passion when an entire country is scarred under a hell of flames, that there are numerous victims and thousands of burned animals, it’s secondary.
“The country is facing up to an unbelievable natural catastrophe. It would be the same thing if there was a terrorist problem: sport comes second.
“I don’t know what the decision will be from Tennis Australia and its director Craig Tiley, who I’m going to send a message of support, but they have to face, like all Australians, things much more serious than the good progress of a tennis tournament.”
Tiley is certain tennis can go ahead, although play on outside courts may have to be stopped if smoke affects the area and impinges on air quality.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 5, 2020
Play should be unaffected on Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Arena and Margaret Court Arena, given they have retractable roofs.
In a Twitter response to a fan’s enquiry over whether a ‘Plan B’ was in place in case smoke did prove an issue, the tournament outlined its intentions.
It announced: “We have three roofed stadiums and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park.
“In the unlikely case of extreme smoke conditions, the roofs will be closed on the three stadium courts and play will continue in their air-conditioned and air-filtered environment.
“If smoke infiltrates the three stadium courts. the air conditioning system will filter it out.”
Tiley, meanwhile, told Melbourne newspaper The Age: “We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.”
Smoke haze is forecast to remain an issue over the next couple of days, according to the Australian government’s Bureau of Meteorology.
Fluctuating temperatures are then expected in the lead-up to the first slam of 2020, which starts on January 20.