• Tue. Mar 9th, 2021

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Tiley 'optimistic' Australian Open fans can return


Craig Tiley is hopeful that fans can return to Melbourne for the closing stages of the Australian Open

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley is ‘optimistic’ that fans can return for the latter stages of the tournament, once a five-day lockdown in the state of Victoria ends on Wednesday.

The season-opening Grand Slam had been played in front of a reduced capacity for the opening five days, but spectators were sent home on Friday evening, as the government moved to supress a local coronavirus outbreak with a lockdown from midnight.

Melbourne emerged from a 111-day lockdown in October following a fresh wave of infections that peaked at 725 cases a day, although new ‘circuit-breaker’ restrictions were imposed last week, after a cluster of 13 coronavirus cases were discovered, linked to the Holiday Inn hotel at Melbourne Airport.

Tiley admitted it was a bitter pill to swallow given the extensive preparations put in place – coupled with the financial implications – but he remains hopeful that fans can return for the latter stages of the tournament.

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Tiley is ‘optimistic’ the Grand Slam will be able to welcome back fans once a five-day lockdown in the state of Victoria ends on Wednesday

Tiley is ‘optimistic’ the Grand Slam will be able to welcome back fans once a five-day lockdown in the state of Victoria ends on Wednesday

“It’s a massive blow. We had five days of magnificent momentum building up to where we were almost at capacity on Friday, and then we were sold out yesterday, sold out today, sold out tomorrow and sold out for finals weekend,” Tiley told Sky Sports.

“We were going to have the maximum amount of allowable crowds and it was going to be a magnificent ride for two weeks. Hopefully this gets lifted on Tuesday or Wednesday and then for the semis and finals, we can have crowds back.

“I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but it would certainly be great if it does. It is an extremely costly exercise for us because we are now no longer generating revenue from ticket sales or hospitality and we have the same costs we had before.

“It’s going to be a tough road pulling out of this financial hole that we will be in, but we still believe it is the right thing to do for investing in the game, and for getting fans and players back out there.

“I’m optimistic that we will have fans on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and we certainly would welcome it, because we were on the path to have 75 per cent of the stadium full.”

An electronic board on Rod Laver Arena reminds patrons about the lockdown start time during the third round match between Novak Djokovic and Talyor Fritz

An electronic board on Rod Laver Arena reminds patrons about the lockdown start time during the third round match between Novak Djokovic and Talyor Fritz

Tiley admits it has taken an extraordinary effort from his 600-strong team to ensure the event could proceed in a COVID-secure environment, despite the multitude of challenges they have faced along the way.

“We have been on a massive learning curve; this is not the same model for everyone or tempered for everyone, but this one has worked and I think it can be applied in many cases,” he added.

“It is a massive team effort – 600-strong permanent staff, we employ thousands of people, 8,000 to 10,000 people. I’m incredibly proud of the work that they have done as a group and how everyone has come together in such a great way.”

The Australian Open is one of several major events scheduled for 2021, and the Tennis Australia chief revealed that he has offered advice to the International Olympic Committee ahead of this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Tokyo is set to welcome thousands of athletes for this summer's Olympic Games

Tokyo is set to welcome thousands of athletes for this summer’s Olympic Games

Tokyo is expected to welcome 11,000 athletes at the end of July, when it holds the rescheduled summer Games, postponed from last year due to the pandemic.

However, there are concerns that the current provisions in place are not rigorous enough, with organisers not currently considering wholesale quarantine upon arrival.

Over 1,200 players and officials were quarantined for 14 days when they arrived in Australia back in January, and 30,000 tests have been conducted throughout this period, to limit the prospect of the virus returning.

The current climate has created unprecedented challenges for the sporting world, but Tiley insists he’s in contact with his fellow tournament directors and officials at the IOC to offer advice based on their experiences.

Wimbledon was cancelled last year due to the pandemic

Wimbledon was cancelled last year due to the pandemic

Last year, Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War Two due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the French Open was rescheduled until later in the year.

“All four Grand Slams talk often. From an executive level we get together as often as we can and we share notes. I have spoken to Stacey Allaster from the USTA, and Sally Bolton with Wimbledon coming up,” Tiley continued.

“We all share notes and we all have different experiences – some were in a partial bubble, some were in a full bubble. We have been in an open environment, so everybody has different needs based on the community transmission.

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Australian Open organisers will continue to share the challenges of staging a major sports event with the IOC ahead of this summer’s Olympics, says Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley

Australian Open organisers will continue to share the challenges of staging a major sports event with the IOC ahead of this summer’s Olympics, says Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley

“One thing I have learned is that it’s extremely difficult to pull off an event of this nature with these number of international players coming from around the world, all the hotspots in the world, particularly as we still are at the height of this pandemic.

“As far as the IOC goes, we’ve shared information with the Australian Olympic Committee and with a few people in the IOC and I’m sure we would be happy to share more.

“What I know today is very different to what I knew when we started on this journey. When we started this journey we thought we had every plan in place and every scenario covered.

“When we sit here today, we did not! It’s because there are so many secondary variables or secondary challenges that come from others and they’ve all got to be managed.”

Players were forced to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Australia, including world No 1 Novak Djokovic

Players were forced to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Australia, including world No 1 Novak Djokovic

Nevertheless, Tiley was full of praise for his team’s efforts over the last 12 months, and with a host of the game’s biggest names still in contention in Melbourne, he’s hoping the tournament will finish with a flourish.

“I think everyone can look back and reflect that they have done something remarkable. This has not been done yet in the pandemic – having crowds, having full stadiums, a playing group that is completely COVID-free in an environment where it is COVID-safe,” he continued.

“Having them travel from over 120 countries around the world; that has not been done yet. We’re proud of what we have achieved, we’ve still got seven days to go of course so anything can happen, we’ve still got to finish strong.

“There is some great tennis and great matches coming up, and I look forward to – like everyone else – taking a little bit of a break, catch up with some sleep that we haven’t had for a long time, and then start planning for 2022.”

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