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Wimbledon | An update… COVID protocols, Vodafone, and Expansion plans

Wimbledon is back in the news, with speculation over vaccination requirements for players at this year’s Championships, the appointment of mobile telecommunications provider Vodafone as the official connectivity partner of both The Championships and the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, and local opposition to the Club’s future site expansion plans.

We are aware that there has been a lot of information circulating in the local community from a variety of sources regarding the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project, and we can appreciate how this might be confusing. We wanted to address some of the misconceptions you might have heard by providing the facts behind the myths.

In the aftermath of Novak Djokovic’s aborted attempt to defend his Australian Open title in contravention of the country’s entry rules, that arriving visitors must be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption, eyes are turning to the AELTC for its COVID protocols ahead of Wimbledon this year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined the chorus encouraging everyone, not just athletes, to protect themselves against coronavirus, appearing to hint that the controversy could have knock-on effects with regard to Wimbledon.

“All I would say about Novak Djokovic, against whom I have played tennis actually—he’s pretty good—is that I believe in vaccination, and I think it’s a wonderful thing to do.,” Johnson said.

“I think everybody should get behind a programme that is allowing this country to be the most open economy in Europe and, simultaneously, to protect people up and down the land, so it has massive advantages.”

The PM is one of many encouraging Djokovic to get the jab, including two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, who is a long-serving WTA Player Council member.

Azarenka said in Melbourne she believes getting vaccinated is the socially responsible thing to do, and that the WTA is right to encourage it, but there are issues with a mandate, however effective that might be.

“I believe in science,” she said. “I believe in getting vaccinated. That’s what I did for myself.

“As an entity, as an association of WTA, that is travelling globally, we still have to respect countries, different countries, different mandates, different legalities of the country.

“Some countries will not allow mandates. I think to impose something legally on the WTA Tour can be a challenge. I think that’s something that we are facing.”

Meanwhile, Djokovic’s appearance at Roland Garros is now being put into question after French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu announced that competing athletes will have to be vaccinated to enter the country.

It has since emerged that Djokovic and his wife Jelena are majority stakeholders in Danish biotech firm QuantBioRes, having bought an 80 per cent stake in June 2020, just months after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

QuantBioRes is looking to develop a treatment for COVID-19 and could launch human clinical trials later this year, and Ivan Loncarevic, its chief executive, told the Financial Times that Djokovic was ‘not anti-vax’.

In a statement earlier this week, Djokovic claimed he was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the Australian court ruling that led to his deportation, and he planned to take ‘some time to rest and recuperate’ before making further comment.

Wimbledon has yet to state its position on the subject but as Omicron cases reduce in the UK, no doubt restrictions will be significantly eased by the summer.

Tim Henman, seen here at last year's US Open, will help the AELTC, LTA and Vodafone develop a new competition for grassroots players

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Meanwhile, under a multi-year partnership, Vodafone will utilise its 5G connectivity, as well as augmented reality, virtual reality, 360, haptic and ‘internet of things’ (IoT) technology, to enhance the experience for fans at the grass court Grand Slam in July.

Vodafone is also working with the AELTC and the LTA to develop a new competition for grassroots players, with further details to be announced in due course.

The telecom operator will work with 4-time Wimbledon men’s semi-finalist Tim Henman and fellow Briton Laura Robson, who reached the 4th round of the women’s singles tournament in 2013, to support the partnership.

“We are looking forward to seeing how Vodafone will create unique experiences to bring our fans even closer to the action at Wimbledon this summer,” Gus Henderson, Commercial Director of the AELTC, said.

“It is also very exciting to have a partner who shares our aim of promoting tennis to an even wider audience.”

The announcement builds on Vodafone’s sports sponsorship portfolio, which included last year’s British and Irish Lions rugby union team tour of South Africa.

Max Taylor, Vodafone’s Consumer Director, added: “There is a huge buzz around British tennis and Wimbledon is set once again to be a high point of the summer.

“We want to build on this momentum long-term by helping people get involved in the sport.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to use our connectivity to deliver a world-class experience for fans both on and off the court. We can’t wait to get involved.”

Laura Robson, former British No 1 and Wimbledon Junior champion, said: “British tennis is going from strength to strength right now, and it’s so exciting to see where we could end up.

“I’m delighted to be teaming up with Vodafone to help encourage as many people as possible to pick up a racket.”

Gus Henderson, Commercial Director of the AELTC, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Vodafone as the Official Connectivity Partner of The Championships.

“We are looking forward to seeing how Vodafone will create unique experiences to bring our fans even closer to the action at Wimbledon this summer.

“It is also very exciting to have a partner who shares our aim of promoting tennis to an even wider audience.”

The Club is working on dispelling myths over its future expansion plans

Elsewhere, the AELTC is trying to combat opposition from the local community to its expansion plans, dedicating pages on to help dispel the myths surrounding the project > Click HERE.

“We are aware that there has been a lot of information circulating in the local community from a variety of sources regarding the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project, and we can appreciate how this might be confusing,” the introductory page states.

“We wanted to address some of the misconceptions you might have heard by providing the facts behind the myths.”

Senior AELTC officials attended a meeting called by Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond to defend its planning application against accusations by local organisations and residents speaking out on the project’s  negative impact, including the size of the new show court and the closure of the main road during The Championships.

Speaking to All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt and Chief Executive Sally Bolton, Wandsworth Conservative Salvatore Muras said: “People don’t see it as being a good neighbour.

“I would suggest that if you want to be seen as a good neighbour you start showing some respect to the local community.”

In another blow to the project, there could be a delay by local councils in considering the application until after the May elections.

The Wimbledon representatives insisted the project brought notable upsides, including a 9.4 hectare public park, increased biodiversity and the millions set to be spent on the de-silting of Wimbledon Park’s lake.

An aim of the project is to bring qualifying for The Championships ‘in house’ rather than playing it at Roehampton, but this will not happen before 2029.

The open meeting was held with a limited audience of around 150, with many more watching online.

With many locals passively supporting the project, the debate is set to rumble on as both Wandsworth and Merton Councils consider the full planning application soon.

For more, click HERE



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