The All England Lawn Tennis Club has revealed some of its plans for expansion over the coming years while continuing with its arrangements for the 2021 Championships, which are due to run from 28 June to 11 July amid ongoing uncertainty caused by COVID-19, with the most likely outcome for this year’s Wimbledon being staged in front of a reduced number of spectators.
In an ideal world I would like to have the Hawkeye technology on the courts, but with line judges. I enjoy the human element, the interaction between players and line judges and players selecting when to challenge and, sometimes, if those challenges have been used up and they don’t have any more challenges left, I like that. Tim Henman
The club has stressed that it will take every step to remain ‘as flexible as possible’ to ensure it reacts to changing circumstances when they may require an increase or decrease in fan attendance.
Exact capacity plans, therefore, will be made as late as possible to ensure maximum fan attendance, but there has been no ‘public ballot’ this year, nor will the ‘famous queue’ or ‘ticket resale’ be in operation for the 2021 Championships.
There is optimism, however, among the elite sports that their finals can go ahead at full capacity and the Chairman of AELTC, Ian Hewitt, is hopeful that tennis can ‘play an exciting role’ whilst also appreciating that these remain challenging and uncertain times, yet they are committed to delivering on their aspiration of staging the best Championships possible.
Wimbledon was cancelled last year for the first time since World War II after organisers conceded that the challenges presented by the global pandemic would be insurmountable for the grass court Grand Slam.
According to SportBusiness.com, the AELTC has so far received £174m ($241.4m/€200.8m) from an insurance policy covering the cancellation of the 2020 tournament.
The figure comes to light in the organisation’s latest set of accounts, which show how the policy helped to offset a year-on-year decline in turnover of nearly £290m caused by the pandemic.
The AELTC reported turnover of just £3.81m in the accounts for the year ended July 31, 2020, compared with the £292m it generated in 2018-19, pre-pandemic.
The insurance policy, which included a pandemic provision, however, paid the AELTC £157m in 2020 with an additional £17m agreed post year-end.
According to the accounts, a final claim amount is still to be agreed with the insurers.
The AELTC took the decision to cancel last year’s event at an emergency board meeting in April last year as sports events across the globe fell victim to restrictions on mass gatherings imposed in response to the health emergency.
Largely thanks to the policy, the accounts reveal the AELTC was still able to report an operating profit of £40.5m for the Championships versus £50.1m in 2019.
It was also able to uphold its commitment to share 90 per cent of the available surplus from the Championships with the Lawn Tennis Association, and committed to pay £35.9m for 2020, compared with the £44.9m it paid in 2019.
It added, however, that the sum would be paid in instalments ‘as discussed with the LTA’ to ensure sufficient funding remains in place to support the 2021 Championships.
Meanwhile, Tim Henman, who is a member of the Management Committee at the AELTC, says he would prefer to see line judges at The Championships this summer rather than Hawkeye-Live, the technology being used elsewhere on tour to make line calls.
“In an ideal world I would like to have the Hawkeye technology on the courts, but with line judges,” Henman told Tennis365 recently.
“I enjoy the human element, the interaction between players and line judges and players selecting when to challenge and, sometimes, if those challenges have been used up and they don’t have any more challenges left, I like that.
“I think that the line judges have been a part of the sport for a long time, I also think there is a community of line judges, umpires who are involved in the game of tennis at the highest level.
“If we were just to be using Hawkeye-Live, I think the interesting opportunity for people to be involved in that sphere declines, and the incentive is not going to be there.”
Novak Djokovic, however, the World No 1, supports the removal of line judges in favour of the new technology, but Henman believes a combination of the two is still preferable.
What is certain is that Wimbledon will look very different this year, with health & safety protocols in place for all participants and public, including the players who will not be allowed to rent houses locally to stay in, but are required to set up their bases in designated hotels in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19.
In other news, the AELTC has revealed some of its expansion plans following the recovery of 73-acres of land it leased on a long-term basis to the neighbouring Wimbledon Park Golf Club.
These plans have been in progress since agreeing a deal to re-acquire Wimbledon Park Golf Club at a cost of £65 million in December 2018 in a deal that resulted in the 750 golfers gaining a windfall of nearly £86,000 each.
Although the AELTC already owned the land leased to the golf club, control of it was not due to revert back to the Club until 2041.
Expansion plans include 39 extra grass courts and a new 8,000-seater Parkland show court with a retractable roof being added.
This will be the largest expansion in the Club’s history, and was revealed in a consultation exercise with local residents.
The Club’s plans are designed to bring The Championships in line with its Grand Slam counterparts, allowing for the qualifying event to take place within its grounds prior to the big fortnight.
Documents detailed how the proposed new Parkland show court will be ‘placed to have a dynamic relationship with Centre Court and No 1 Court’.
This will hold 8,000 people and act as the ‘event epicentre’ for qualifying, while the aim is to ‘nurture and restore the landscape’ while also delivering ‘a year-round experience that will provide community benefit’.
The new courts will require two years to mature following the laying of the grass, with a view to hosting qualifying on the site in 2028, while the new show court should be fully completed by 2030.
Meanwhile, the qualifying competition will remain two miles away at the Bank of England sports ground at Roehampton.
The public consultation process is expected to conclude in June, with a planning application to be submitted in July.
Planning approval would allow work to begin on the project next year, with the various aspects of the plan being delivered in stages.