Australian Open 2020: British tennis writer slams organisers
British tennis writer Stuart Fraser has delivered a scathing assessment of how tennis officials have dealt with the problems caused by bushfire smoke as the new season starts in Australia.
It was business as usual in Sydney last week, officials giving the go-ahead each day despite the conditions, but it was a different story in Melbourne yesterday. Qualifiers for the year’s first grand slam were delayed because of the poor air quality but organisers eventually cleared the players for action.
However, stars complained about being forced to play in conditions they claim put their health at risk.
Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic couldn’t finish her match after collapsing with a coughing fit, Eugenie Bouchard felt nauseous as both she and Aussie Bernard Tomic complained about breathing difficulties and several other players also hit out.
Fraser, who arrived Down Under earlier this month, said organisers’ decision to allow play to continue despite player’s protests was a “shameful day for tennis”.
“It was patently clear that it was not safe for players to contest a tennis match unless conditions improved drastically,” Fraser wrote in an article for The Times.
“With players gasping for air on court yesterday, it is unfathomable that organisers — no doubt sitting in the comfort of an air-conditioned office behind the scenes — allowed play to continue.
“Another alarming oversight was the failure to arrange P2 face masks, which can filter out fine particles in smoke, for the ball boys and girls, umpires and line judges who were standing outside for hours.
“This was a shameful day for tennis but one that had been brewing because of the incompetence of the sport’s officials to grasp fully the health issues that bushfire smoke can cause. Let us hope that the same mistake is not repeated in the coming weeks.”
On Twitter, Fraser added: “One concerning trend is the incompetence of tennis officials, who appear to have their heads in the sand when it comes to grasping the health issues for players here.”
While Fraser acknowledged officials were facing an “unprecedented” situation given the severity of this summer’s bushfires and the resulting smoke, he still maintained there was no excuse for putting the players in this position.
Victoria’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had advised Melbourne residents to stay inside yesterday but even that wasn’t entirely safe for some players, with British star Jay Clarke saying smoke had infiltrated the indoor courts at Melbourne Park.
“There was talk of it moving indoors but we went over to the national tennis centre and it was worse,” Clarke said. “They have got permanent vents open so when it (smoke) got in it wasn’t able to get out.”
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley insisted organisers would be guided by experts on how to deal with the smoke and would do what’s in the players’ best interests.
“This is a new experience for all of us in how we manage air quality, so we have to listen to the experts,” Tiley said on Tuesday.
“We have installed measuring devices on-site for air quality.”
TA chief operating officer Tom Larner said any smoke stoppages would be treated in the same way as an extreme heat or rain delay.
“We will stop if conditions become unsafe based on medical advice,” he said.
Originally published as Searing take-down of ‘shameful’ Aussie trend