The revamped Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals due to be held in Budapest from 14-19 April, as well as a series of play-off ties, have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ITF stated in a shock announcement in response to COVID-19 health concerns.
We are extremely disappointed to have to make this decision, but we will not risk the safety and welfare of players, captains, event staff or spectators. This decision has not been made lightly; the threat posed by the COVID-19 is a serious one and calls for us to act responsibly as a federation and as human beings. This situation goes beyond sport. David Haggerty, ITF President
“After careful consideration and close discussion with the ITF Board, the Local Organising Committee and in light of today’s announcement by the Hungarian government regarding indoor events, it is with regret that the ITF has announced the postponement of the Fed Cup Finals,” it added.
The news broke as speculation continued over whether organisers of the Miami Open will follow Indian Wells in cancelling the tournament due to begin on 25 March, although officials insisted earlier in the week that the event was ‘moving forward as scheduled’.
It is also rumoured that the ATP and WTA Tours are to be suspended for a 6-week period due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Again, both the ATP and WTA have previously stated that their tours would proceed as planned while keeping the situation under constant review.
“According to usually reliable sources an announcement is brewing to the effect that the Miami Open is officially off,” Mike Dickson from the Daily Mail wrote on Twitter.
Sportsmail also reports that both tours will be suspended, writing: “the Miami Open later this month is definitely off, following on from the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, but that may lead to a complete suspension of international tennis for the early spring.
“Significant events that could be cancelled include the men’s Monte Carlo Open, which begins over Easter weekend, and the WTA tournament in Stuttgart, blowing a large hole in the clay court season.
“According to insiders, the plan may extend to stopping all tournaments until the Madrid Open at the start of May, which features the top male and female players.”
Russel Fuller from the BBC confirmed that player meetings were taking place on Wednesday to discuss the crises after this week’s Indian Wells Masters was the first event to be called off because of the virus.
This cancellation has now been followed by the Fed Cup Finals in Hungary, where a ban was issued on Wednesday on public gatherings of more than 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors until further notice.
The ITF COVID-19 Advisory Group has been monitoring the global spread and impact of COVID-19 since early February 2020, in continuous consultation with independent medical and travel advisers as well as international and national authorities.
“We are extremely disappointed to have to make this decision, but we will not risk the safety and welfare of players, captains, event staff or spectators,” said ITF President David Haggerty.
“This decision has not been made lightly; the threat posed by the COVID-19 is a serious one and calls for us to act responsibly as a federation and as human beings. This situation goes beyond sport.
“New dates for the Finals and for the Play-offs will be announced in due course and will primarily be guided by the length of time that tennis as a whole is affected by COVID-19.”
Eight play-off ties had also been scheduled to be held at various venues around the world from 17 to 18 April.
The move to reform the Fed Cup followed a similar overhaul of the Davis Cup in men’s tennis, with Madrid hosting the inaugural finals in Madrid last November.
The previous format, which saw the 8-team World Group decided over 3 ties separated over the course of the season, was criticised for being too strung out and not protecting player welfare, which led many top players to stop representing their countries.
The new-look tournament will offer a total prize pot of $18 million with $12 million going to players and $6 million to national tennis 3 teams, with the winners progressing to the semi-finals and final.
The ITF is committed to delivering the Fed Cup Finals in 2020 and is in consultation with key stakeholders, including the Hungarian Government, the Hungarian Tennis Association (HTA) and the WTA to find a suitable alternative date for the tournament.
The Fed Cup is an Olympic Qualification event and the ITF is working closely with the IOC to address any impact on athlete eligibility for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“We will continue to collaborate with our colleagues across the sport to ensure that the impact on players, tournaments, rights holders and fans is as minimal as possible,” added Haggerty.
“In the meantime, the ITF COVID-19 Advisory Group will continue to monitor the situation closely and further decisions will be based on the facts, official data and expert advice.”
Meanwhile, World No 1 Novak Djokovic addressed his concerns as the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic
“WHO’s official confirmation that it is a worldwide pandemic means a major shutdown of transport, events, perhaps even exchanges,” Djokovic said. “This state of emergency for the whole world.
“I do not see how the Miami tournament will be held under these conditions. My advice to all guys in the US is to return to Europe in the next 48 hours, maybe earlier.
“I’m currently in Los Angeles but will take flight tonight or tomorrow at the latest. I honestly do not know what can happen under these new circumstances.
“I do not know if we can play Miami, other tournaments, until WHO removes the statement of the pandemic,” Djokovic concluded.
The second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, is due to start at the end of May, but officials last week said they had no postponement or cancellation plans as yet, while Wimbledon is also still on at present after the UK government opted not to suspend all sporting events.
Sportsmail, however, reports: “While no definitive position has been taken on the French Open and Wimbledon, there will inevitably be fears about their status until the crisis is seen to be in retreat.”
The All England Club apparently are considering cancelling The Championships this year rather than staging it behind closed doors, Sportsmail has learned.
The fate of the tournament will ultimately be decided by the Government, who are co-ordinating sport’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but it is understood that there is extreme reluctance in SW19 to contemplate holding their iconic event without spectators.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the major sports’ governing bodies and broadcasters at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Monday, with Wimbledon’s position believed to differ markedly from other sports such as football and racing, who are determined to keep events on for as long as possible even if it means shutting out fans.
The All England Club were represented at the meeting by Paul Davies, their Head of Broadcast and Production.
Wimbledon’s position is understood to be down to the All England Club’s financial strength, their obligations to members, and The Championship’s image.
There are only 375 full members and there is a strong feeling among many that without the social aspect the tournament should not go ahead.
The All England Club are also comfortable with the insurance provisions they have in place that would enable them to refund those who have bought tickets in advance.
A decision is not imminent, however, as there are over 3 months until The Championships are due to take begin on 29 June.
The French Open, which starts at the end of May, is under greater threat with the number of coronavirus cases in France passing 1,700 on Wednesday.