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Open Season on the Open

By Frances Howe, LLB

The Australian open is predicted to face total financial losses close to 100 million Australian dollars, according to director Craig Tilley. This is due to the tournament taking place this year amid Covid-19 restrictions in Melbourne. The annual tournament was interrupted by a statewide five-day lockdown that began on the evening of 12 February. The lockdown was introduced by Victorian State Premier, Daniel Andrews, in an attempt to curb the spread of the UK Variant of Covid-19 in Australia. Andrews affirmed that the sports events would continue without spectators. Spectators were allowed into the venue on the 12 February on the condition that they were home before 11:59pm that night in accordance with the start of the lockdown. The lockdown ended on 17 February at 11:59pm. 

According to the Australian Open organisers, full refunds were available to those who held tickets within the five-day lockdown period. The tournament was made available broadcast-only from 13 February. Seven-time Australian Open winner, Serena Williams, responded to the announcement by stating ‘it’s rough, it’s going to be a rough few days for I think everyone.’ She also stated, ‘It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It’s been really cool. But at the end of the day we have to do what’s best.’ 

The tournament had already capped its spectator limits at 30,000 fans per day in order to facilitate social distancing measures. Spectators did not have to wear masks when seated whilst the stadium roof was open but did when it was closed. 

Competitors were forced to quarantine for 14 days inside hotels before the tournament began. Anastasia Potapova took to her twitter to post a video from within the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne which featured hitting tennis balls against the hotel window. Pablo Cuevas also posted a video on his Instagram story in which he used a hotel mattress as a target for his tennis practice in quarantine. These quarantine measures have invited public scrutiny over the ethics of detaining competitors before serious competition. A letter written by Novak Djokovic to Australia Open officials on behalf of 72 other players demanding better quarantine conditions was leaked to the press. 

Another detrimental impact of the event closures was felt by those working at the Australian Open. The SOAS Spirit reached out to Joe (last name withheld for privacy) who is an employee of a third party event company at the Australian Open. According to Joe, he lost a significant amount of work due to the ban on spectators which was not compensated for. ‘When the events were shut down because of the snap lockdown, the client really didn’t have any clue how to handle it, and basically cancelled what was supposed to be the first day back. I ended up working for 4 out of what was a promised 14 days and turned down a lot of other work in order to do this one.’ 

Despite this, Joe said he didn’t feel like the decision to host the tournament was the wrong one: ‘I think it wasn’t a bad decision to go ahead with the tournaments this year considering it did provide a lot of work and the case numbers at the time of the open being confirmed were at 0 daily. The AO managed the pandemic quite excellently and the contact tracing and checking in that was adopted by the AO and also by my employer was serious.’  However, Joe did recognise the disparity in approach by the Victorian State Government to sports events as opposed to other industries such as the arts: ‘It was an offensive remark, in my opinion, that during the snap lockdown the matches still went ahead because the tennis players “can’t work from home” but all arts practices and other workplaces were forcibly shut.’

The Australian Open ended on 21 February with Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic walking away as champions.

Photo caption: A lone, masked fan at the Australian Open. (Credit: The Age via Getty Images)

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