With the devestation that the bush fires have done to Australia, why is the Australian Open still going ahead? The locals in Melbourne have been told to stay indoors and keep animals inside, so why haven’t the players been brought in?
Players have had to retire due to the smoke and poor air quality, some have complained of ‘blood and black stuff’ coming out of their noses after matches, suffering from coughing fits and struggling to breath properly. An email sent to male players by the ATP and Tennis Australia defending the decision to allow play to continue hasn’t helped matters. Those players have described the email as ‘a slap in the face.’
Surely, the safety of the players should be absolutely paramount to the ATP and Tennis Australia. If they want to have an exciting and memorable tournament where players produce great displays of tennis, then they can’t have them struggling to breath and bleeding out of their noses. They may claim that medical experts have told them the conditions are acceptable to play in, but when players are having to retire because of coughing fits and struggling to breath, it might be time to have a rethink. Tennis, like a great many sports, is a high intensity physical activity where a player’s muscles are worked immensley hard and will require a lot of oxygen to keep them working properly. In the email sent out, ATP claims that an air quality reading is taken every four minutes at Melbourne Park, the venue, and whenever that reading exceeds 200, play is suspended. Other readings around Melbourne on Tuesday suggested the air quality index was above 200, but the email says that no play had taken place with the reading above 200.
Fortunately, the heavy rain on Wednesday has improved the air quality, bringing in cooler conditions. Melbourne’s air quality was rated as ‘good’ on Thursday as qualifying continued without issue. But they failed to take player concerns onboard when they were raised. Given the devestation that has ravished the country, it makes sense that they would want to keep the tournament on schedule and keep one of the signature events of the Australian sports calendar in place. Not as a distraction per se but as a way for the country to move on and still be able to enjoy itself despite the situation it finds itself in. Ultimately a tennis tournament does not matter in the grand scheme of the bushfires across Australia but holding events like these can help a country begin to heal. Something similar was done after 9/11. Then Mayor Rudy Guiliani was keen that Broadway get back to normal as quickly as possible. That included continuing with the Broadway premiere of Mamma Mia, when the showrunners had been convinced they would have to delay the opening of the show.
Instead they were begged to open on schedule and were told opening the show on time was the best thing they could possibly do for the city. I imagine that it’s something similar driving the organisers of the Australian Open to keep the tourament on schedule and to actually happen at all. But they have to take the safety of the athletes seriously. As soon as players raised concerns, the matches should have been delayed, same as rain or light in other sports. Even if it was just a short break court side for them to have drink and get their breath back.
I can absolutely understand why the tournament organisers would want to make sure it goes ahead as normal. But in doing so, they have put numerous players’ health at risk by playing in conditions that while ‘playable’ were not necessarily healthy. I just feel they may have been better off, when holding a major sporting event like this, outdoors, playing a sport that is very high intensity, in a country that has been ravaged by bushfires, where there is a lot of smoke in the air, to delay the start of the tournament while the emergency responders continued their work, simply from a player safety point of view.