Foreign fans could miss out on the 2021 Australian Open in January as Grand Slam officials war-game dramatic tournament scenarios amidst a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne.
TD Craig Tiley spelled out current thinking to the AP on Saturday, confirming that if the health situation in Victoria does not change for the better, then the first major of 2021 could well be an Aussie-only public spectacle.
In addition, virus bio-security for players and staff will be tight and the total attendance total will fall well short of the record numbers who attended only six months ago.
“We will not hit the numbers we had last year, a record 821,000 through the gates,” Tiley told the newsagency.
“Our fans will be from Melbourne and Victoria state, interstate, as well as potentially New Zealanders, if they lift border restrictions.
“But the 15 per cent we get from overseas will likely not be here.”
The Victoria capital was plunged back into a six-week lockdown this month after a fresh outbreak of the contagious virus.
Until the flare-up, Australia had been among the countries thought to have gotten COVID under control.
Players from overseas – the obvious majority of the Open field – will be required to quarantine upon landing in Australia, likely ensuring some December arrivals.
Spectators will be socially distanced if they are even allowed and players will live inside a “health bubble” with no apparent contact with the world outside of hotel, secured transport and the tennis venue.
“We made that decision this week, to go with that scenario from a number of options,” Tiley said.
With the US and French Open trying to stage their own majors this autumn under similar trying circumstances, Australian officials will keep a close eye on who it all pans out.
“They are both exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limited entourages,” Tiley said. “Of course we are looking at all these options, and more, as part of our scenario planning.
“There is no question with the current lockdown in Melbourne as not ideal for people today, but positive for the future. If we get on top of the infection rate, we will all have learned some good lessons.”
“If conditions improve and the U.S. Open and French Open goes well and they have positive events, it will build the confidence of the players and help us here in Melbourne next year,” he added.
The post-tournament period might also be more than inconvenient for payers, who may need special permission to leave the country if Australia remains on its current travel lockdown.
Flights in and out of the island-continent are currently nearly impossible, with Qantas having cancelled all international services until late October.
Tiley explained: “(Players) also have to get an exemption to leave Australia, consider a possible 14-day quarantine period when they come back, and how that will affect their training schedule.”