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‘Health of players, fans and staff a priority’: Australian Open organisers on bushfire smoke

With qualifying for the season's first Grand Slam starting on January 14, Australia Open director Craig Tiley said officials can halt play if smoke poses a danger to players' health.

By: Reuters | Melbourne | January 7, 2020 11:43:30 am
Three people feared dead in Australian bushfires The sky glows red as bushfires continue to rage in Mallacoota, Victoria, Australia. (Source: Reuters)

Australian Open organisers are monitoring the deteriorating air quality in Melbourne and said matches could be suspended if conditions become hazardous amid the bushfire crisis. Hundreds of fires have killed at least 25 people and ravaged more than 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of land across Australia over the last few months.

With qualifying for the season’s first Grand Slam starting on January 14, tournament director Craig Tiley said officials can halt play if smoke poses a danger to players’ health.

“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain,” he told local media.

“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts on-site to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions ­regarding whether play should be halted at any point. “The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.”

There have so far been no smoke-related delays at the ATP Cup, which is taking place in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

However, this week’s ATP Challenger/ITF Futures tournament scheduled to take place in Canberra was moved to Bendigo, while the capital city’s Brumbies rugby team moved their pre-season training camp to Newcastle.

READ | ATP Cup: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal march on with convincing wins

World No. 2 and seven-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic expressed his concerns about the air quality in Melbourne, saying that players and officials would meet to discuss a possible delayed start to the tournament.

Women’s world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty said that there were bigger issues than the delaying of the tournament by a couple of days and that health and safety would have to come first.

“First and foremost, the reason that there is smoke in the air is what’s most devastating at the moment for our country,” the Australian said.

“It’s just a really tough time. Tennis is a sport, it’s a game that we play, and there are certainly a lot of bigger things going on in Australia right now that we need to take care of.”

As a show of support for those affected by the fires, a special ‘Rally for Relief’ event will be held ahead of the Australian Open, with many of the world’s top players committing to charity matches. The matches are part of a larger initiative known as the ‘Aces for Bushfire Relief’, which will see 100 A$ ($69) donated for every ace served at tournaments across the country this summer, including at the Australian Open.

The Australian Open main draw begins on January 20.

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