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Tiley pleads for AO quarantine exemption

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley is seeking special exemptions for players arriving for the first Grand Slam tournament of 2021 in January in order to avoid the strict 14-day hotel quarantine currently mandatory for inbound travellers.

We can help the Victorian government, we can help the other governments – but we need help too. We need exemptions on bringing in 2500 people. We will make commitments. We will invest millions of dollars into ensuring that they are safe from the community and the community is safe from them and we want to put an event out that our community can really enjoy and be proud of. We can say we took a low-risk option and it was a great approach to actually showcase that you can get it going [during COVID-19]. Craig Tiley, CEO Tennis Australia

This comes on the heels of the news that Australia’s three biggest golf tournaments have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic in an ‘unprecedented blow’ to the sport, with the men’s and women’s Australian Open and the PGA Championship, all due to be played in February, now no longer taking place for the first time since 1945.

“It’s unprecedented and a real blow for Australian golf and its fans,” said PGA of Australia chief executive Gavin Kirkman after what he called ‘months of exhaustive consultations’.

Australia has closed its international borders to most travellers as part of its effort to suppress the coronavirus pandemic, and even people moving between some of the country’s different states and regions can be subject to a mandatory two-week quarantine.

Nevertheless, Tiley remains confident that the Australian Open will go ahead at Melbourne Park as planned from 18-31 January, and hopes the lead-up events, including the men’s ATP Cup and tournaments in Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart, will also take place.

This, however, is dependent on Australia’s state and federal governments relaxing border restrictions and granting special approval for players to go into a bio-secure training bubble, similar to that at the US Open and French Open recently, to prepare for the tournament, but still remain isolated from the public.

“If a player has to … be stuck in a hotel for two weeks just before their season, that won’t happen,” Tiley told the Australian Associated Press. “You can’t ask players to quarantine for two weeks and then step out and be ready to play a Grand Slam.”

2020 Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has yet to decide if he will travel to Melbourne to defend his title

© Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both of whom will turn 40 in 2021, have already committed to playing in Australia, but Tiley said players simply won’t show up if they are not allowed to prepare properly.

“We completely accept that everyone coming from overseas has got to have two weeks in quarantine,” Tiley said. “[but] what we are negotiating, or what we’re trying to have an agreement on, is that we set up a quarantine environment where they can train and go between the hotel and the courts in those two weeks.”

At the US Open and French Open, players were not required to quarantine but instead had to operate in a bio-secure bubble and undergo regular COVID-19 tests before being allowed to compete, while the wearing masks between matches was also mandatory.

“We need commitments from the governments and the health officers,” Tiley added. “We need to kind of know in the next two weeks, maybe a month, that this is what can happen: borders are going to open and then we can have a multi-city event.

“If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.”

Tiley has always said that flexible planning via various graded scenarios would be the key to getting the tournament up and running while the global health crisis continued.

He revised expected crowd numbers from the 50% predicted in August down to a likely 25% of the normal number of visitors to Melbourne Park, which is around 200,000 people.

The $15 million ATP Cup, a joint venture between the men’s tour and Tennis Australia (TA), debuted last year at the heart of a rejigged Australian Open warm-up schedule, which also included women’s events in Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart.

Tiley, who doubles as TA Chief Executive, said holding the ATP Cup over three cities would be impossible if state borders remained closed, and is hoping the improving health conditions leads to a relaxation.

“We’re getting to crunch time now. We need commitments from the governments and the health officers,” he said.

Melbourne has been one of Australia’s hardest-hit cities during the coronavirus pandemic, while a second wave of the coronavirus has forced overnight curfews and a six-week lockdown for its 5 million residents.

Tiley doesn’t rule out the ATP Cup and potentially other tournament being held in Melbourne If state borders are not reopened, just as the Cincinnati hard-court tournament was staged at Flushing Meadows ahead of the US Open.

“Anything is possible right now,” Tiley said. “Everything is still on the table.”

“If we cannot have a multi-city event, we’ve got to reconsider everything.”

Sofia Kenin won the women's title in January and poses here with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy at Yarra River Boathouse Drive

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Tiley points out that the Australian Open is the biggest and richest event on the annual Australian sporting calendar, which will provide the economic boost Victoria so desperately needs, but only if the Australian governments come to the party.

“We can help the Victorian government, we can help the other governments – but we need help too,” Tiley said on Friday. “We need exemptions on bringing in 2500 people.

“We will make commitments. We will invest millions of dollars into ensuring that they are safe from the community and the community is safe from them and we want to put an event out that our community can really enjoy and be proud of.

“We can say we took a low-risk option and it was a great approach to actually showcase that you can get it going [during COVID-19].

“The Australian Open in January will pump millions of dollars directly into the economy for Melbourne and Victoria and play a major role in accelerating the economic recovery in the state,” Tiley said.

“This year alone the AO generated more than $387 million in economic benefit and created thousands of jobs.

“The AO will again provide a massive boost for the tourism, event and hospitality industries, all of which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic this year.

“As well as the economic uplift, we believe the AO is a great opportunity for the state and indeed the nation to start 2021 on a high with an event that the entire country loves and embraces every year hopefully providing something of a morale boost.

“Fewer people will come in but it’s broadcast to a billion fans globally. That won’t change,” he said.

“In a year’s time, we’re going to have to have solutions to international travel because our economy won’t survive without that.

“But in the meantime, we’re just working towards that so this year having an event with some crowds, building the confidence back in the community, making a contribution to jump-starting the economy, having a solution to managing this virus, these are all things we can make a contribution to.”

Tiley also pointed out that Tennis Australia was a non-profit organisation.

“That’s the other thing that’s been a bit of a misnomer. We don’t have to run these events because we have to make money,” he said.

“We can shut the business down for six months if we had to and then start it back up if we had to.

“But that’s not in the interests of the local community, not in the interests of the country and the economy.

“We’ve got to all work together to make this happen.”

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park, at sunset

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images



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