Tennis has been a prime example of why sports aren’t ready for fans. From Djokovic’s Adria Tour disaster to the Atlanta tournament, the sport is making mistake after mistake.
As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, fans and players yearn for sports to return as they used to be. The itch for the return to normalcy has only grown larger as each week passes. This itch has led to premature returns across the world, with similar results.
There’s no better example of this premature return than in tennis. Headlining the list is Novak Djokovic’s extremely controversial Adria Tour, which was cancelled less than halfway through after 4 players and 2 coaches tested positive for COVID-19.
All seemed well going into the tournament. Only 8 players were to compete in the event and would take place in 4 locations that had supposedly eased government restrictions leading up to the beginning of the event. Through the first leg of the event in Belgrade, all was well.
That was until Djokovic and the tournament committee announced they were suspending the 3rd leg of the tour that was to be held in Montenegro due to “virus concerns”. Chattering amongst media and fans began shortly after, wondering whether or not the tour was too much of a liability given the 4,000 fans that were packed into the small stadium court with no regard for social distancing or masks.
Their suspicions were confirmed the very next week after Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for the virus after playing in his first match of the second leg. Play continued on without any stoppage after he pulled out, and the tour was shut down after his positive test was confirmed.
The icing on the cake came over the next few days, as Borna Coric (Dimitrov’s opponent), and Victor Troicki both tested positive. Shortly after that, Djokovic himself, along with his wife and fitness coach, tested positive for the virus.
Djokovic’s good intentions were swept under the rug, replaced by his ignorance of the larger picture and his lack of understanding. Surely, tennis with fans would surely be shut down for a while, perhaps longer than originally expected.
That answer is no. A mere two weeks later, the All-American Team Cup began play in Atlanta with fans in attendance, and after the very first day, Frances Tiafoe tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, unlike the Adria Tour, the All-American Cup is still continuing without any changes. Fans are still in attendance, the restrictions haven’t been tightened, and the players are playing just like before with no regard to the dangers they’re putting themselves in.
Roland Garros has recently announced that they will be filling their stands at 60% capacity or the September event. This means that Phillipe-Chatrier (Center Court) can hold a maximum of 9,300. For Suzanne-Lenglen, it’ll be 6,040, and for Simonne-Mathieu (Court 3), it’ll be 3,000. While France isn’t letting in people from high-risk areas currently (such as the USA), that might change once September rolls around. That’ll result in a huge risk for a virus outbreak at the event.
Despite all of this, tournaments play on, and more are scheduled to take place. There is no thought to what the dangers are for players or fans. Thousands of people are piling into stadiums, standing mere inches apart at times. During player interviews, the microphones were handed between people with no thought to the risk that could bring.
Tennis (or any sport) cannot return with fans yet. It simply isn’t safe for anyone and will result in a spike of virus cases if handled poorly enough. There shouldn’t be a rush to return just because fans are getting antsy and players think it’s all okay. Sports need to social distance. It’s hard enough containing the spread as it is, but organizing large groups like these tournaments will only make it more difficult.
Keep our players safe, and our beloved sports will return. Keep yourselves safe, and fans will be able to return alongside it.