Australian Open officials on Monday bowed to fears of a COVID-limited field next January, with TD Craig Tiley confirming that this year’s 14-day total player lockdown will not be repeated.
The decision apparently came after emergency talks with the Victoria state government in a country which has been closed to business travel and much of sport since the pandemic began 18 months ago.
Both upcoming F1 Grand Prix and Moto GP events have been scrapped by the government as Australia tries to come to terms with the need to vaccinate – not isolate – against COVID.
While players submitted to the harsh quarantine prior to February’s delayed edition, local officials could sense that the same would not hold true next January.
Instead, a player exodus might result.
The South African administrator is putting his faith in Australia’s slow-go vaccine effort, which has left the locked-down nation trailing well behind Europe and the US on jabs..
“We want to do it with crowds. The two weeks of hard, strict quarantine will not be something that we can encourage the players to participate in but, by that point, we will all be vaccinated,” Tiley said.
“We will be five months down the track, we will have found better solutions on managing the spread of the virus.”
He suggested a hardline – if unpopular – player health bubble such as Wimbledon pulled off as the solution for his event.
“We believe in the two-week window through isolation, playing in a bubble and interacting among themselves.
“We will have a solution that the players will accept, one that will protect the safety and health of our community, which from the beginning has been our primary objective.”
One of the main drivers of the fresh approach is the Wimbledon women’s title of Ash Barty, a sure driver of ticket sales for the first major of next season.
With this year’s crowd-limited Open losing around US$ 70 million, Tennis Australia officials are keen not to go through that drama again.
“We are talking every day to the players. We know what conditions they will accept to come in. The government is aware of that,” he said.
“We are all motivated towards that outcome. Things will be very different in January as they are today,” Tiley said.