The Australian Open: Embarrassing, Stupid, and Unfair

Australian Open qualifying
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By now I’m sure you know the situation in Australia due to COVID: If you don’t live there you can’t visit unless you have citizenship; if your parents or kids are there and you haven’t seen them for God knows how long you still can’t enter. Even if you have citizenship and are re-entering the country, you’re stuck having to quarantine for 14 days in a designated hotel.

But here’s the thing. With the 2021 Australian Open taking place, albeit a few weeks after it was originally planned, tennis players are getting somewhat of an exception to enter the country and play the event. On paper that’s great for staff, players, and fans. Staff will have jobs as some may currently be unemployed, players will be able to compete in one of tennis’ biggest events and earn prize money, and fans will have a Grand Slam to watch.

Unfortunately, for all the good the event can bring, there’s simply so much bad that it’s honestly laughable and embarrassing that the event is going ahead. One of these biggest cases is the quarantining required of certain players, which is simply unfair.

As expected, due to Australia being closed to the general public, special flights from all over the world were scheduled for players and their teams to arrive–all 1200+ of them. Whilst everyone was tested pre-flight, that doesn’t mean they can’t test positive a few days later after the flight.

Earlier we found out a few people on these flights entering Australia tested positive upon arrival. Due to this, everyone on these flights will now have to quarantine for 14 days, among them 47 players–including the likes of Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber, and Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori.

This is when things get pathetic–during quarantine these players won’t be allowed to practice and train. Sorana Cirstea voiced her frustration on Twitter about the situation, claiming she doesn’t mind quarantining for 14 days–making a joke about spending it watching Netflix–but the issue coming in competing at the Australian Open with no practice and training after. How can we expect these players to compete with others who’ve been training for five hours (and more in some cases) a day for the two weeks they’re locked away?

Which is ironic in itself given tournament director Craig Tiley said: “If a player has to quarantine and be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen… You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a Grand Slam” back in October. How can you say something like that then have it play out in reality just three months later?

Now given the extreme nature of the situation, you would have thought all the players arriving in Australia would have been informed regarding the protocol if someone tests positive on the plane, but somehow that’s not the case.

Kazakh player Yulia Putinseva went on Twitter to share that no one had told her or her team that she would have to quarantine if someone tested positive. If she had known, she would have potentially not made the effort to enter the country and event. She also said later on that they were told if the player or someone in her team positive then everyone in that group would have to quarantine.

Just to add to the mixed messages and awful communication of the tournament to players, Alize Cornet shared that she was told the plane would be separated into sections of ten people, and if someone tested positive that whole section would have to quarantine. She followed this up saying the risk of injury playing tennis at a high level after such a prolonged break is very high, and quite honestly it’s hard not to see her point.

Just to make matters even worse, there’s been reports of rats in the hotel rooms of quarantined players and it not being rectified for hours. 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk further reported that the Wi-Fi wasn’t very good and that some fellow players had no Wi-Fi altogether, while others weren’t even able to make calls with their own coaches.

Honestly, when I decided to write this article, I wanted to give several different reasons why this year’s Australian Open was a joke. These varied from Andy Murray being forced to withdraw from the event despite likely testing negative closer to the event, top players such as Rafael Nadal being allowed bigger teams, better accommodation, and facilities and the country letting in 1200+ plus when at least a good 70,000 Australian citizens in Melbourne aren’t allowed to leave to return home elsewhere in the country. Even from a tennis point of view, if it were the likes of Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic on these flights, would they really quarantine them for 14 days without access to training? You tell me.

Keeping all those other points in mind and players being quarantined in awful conditions, lied to, and simply disrespected, this whole Australian Open is a disgrace. I am ashamed as a tennis fan that this event is going ahead in Australia, one of the most locked down countries in the world while “regular” people can’t even visit their own family.

It also seems a major unnecessary risk. Australia effectively has no current COVID outbreaks due to its geographic isolation and strict lockdowns. Is hosting a tennis tournament really worth bringing in over 1,200 people and risking exposing so many people?

Simply put, this whole mess of a situation could have been avoided by having the event moved to a country which didn’t have such extreme measures in place–just look at how well last year’s US Open and Roland Garros tournaments were run despite the situation. Or if that wasn’t possible given it’s a Grand Slam, it should have been cancelled, no two ways around it. I’m not too sure what Tennis Australia were thinking when they green-lit the event, but I’m pretty sure they were thinking with their pockets more than their heads.