Australian Open organizers have been asked by a government official to create an official air quality policy, while players are criticizing the measures the tournament has had in place so far.
Having described scenes on the opening day of qualifying as “awful,” Victoria’s chief health officer Brent Sutton offered to help come up with guidelines about playing in smoke-affected conditions.
“Tennis Australia needs to work up an air quality policy,” said Sutton in a press conference in Melbourne. “I can’t make a call on what individual thresholds might be, it really does depend on what it might mean to enclose a space and what filtration systems they might have as alternatives.
“But I think they need to consider through all those thresholds, from poor to hazardous air quality, what their alternatives might be with a view to protecting as many players as possible.”
Though officials have not announced any official air quality rules, an email sent to players was obtained by the BBC and described the tournament’s approach. It said “conditions are challenging, but the medical experts say they are acceptable for play,” adding that readings were done on site every four minutes and no play had occurred above a 200 level, rated as ‘very poor.’ Some sporting organizations stop only at a 300 reading, it said.
But this was received with criticism from players who had competed in the conditions. “The email we received yesterday from the ATP and AO was a slap in the face,” Liam Broady wrote on social media. “On tour we let so many things go that aren’t right but at some point we have to make a stand.”
We can’t let this go. @VasekPospisil @DreddyTennis @Jay27798 @sventennis @hotdog6969 @GBtennis @NaomiBroady pic.twitter.com/KYxSW2kP2I
— Liam Broady (@Liambroady) January 15, 2020
Noah Rubin had complained about lack of guidance from the event prior to the start of qualifying and said this explanation was not enough. “The talk between players is about disappointment,” he told BBC Sport, noting that a lot of players had been having physical issues.
Regional bushfires affected air quality in Melbourne on the opening day of qualifying, with widely shown video of Dalila Jakupovic dropping to the ground and coughing before eventually retiring from the competition. Numerous other players complained of fatigue and problems in the conditions, and criticized the decision to play with only an hour’s delay.
Air quality improved on the second day, with play delayed three hours and then postponed by rain. While there were again some player complaints, no retirements were prompted by the conditions.
Organizers had previously spoken of moving matches indoors if required, but ATP player Jay Clarke told press on site that air quality in the event’s indoor courts was even poorer because of vents that allowed smoke-affected air in and trapped it inside.
Jay Clarke, the British No5, said “There was talk of it [qualifying] moving indoors but we actually went over to the NTC [at 11am] and it was worse. They have got permanent vents open so when it [the smoke] got in it wasn’t able to get out, so no players were practising indoors”
— Simon Briggs (@simonrbriggs) January 14, 2020
Officials still expect to finish qualifying a day before main draw play begins, with conditions improving in the weather forecast. The third day of qualifying was not affected.