Australian Open urged to set air quality policy for player safety

Rafa Nadal gives firefighter Deb some tennis tips at the Rally for Relief Bushfire Appeal event. Picture: Darrian Traynor/GettyRafa Nadal gives firefighter Deb some tennis tips at the Rally for Relief Bushfire Appeal event. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty
Rafa Nadal gives firefighter Deb some tennis tips at the Rally for Relief Bushfire Appeal event. Picture: Darrian Traynor/Getty
Poor air quality has continued to affect the Australian Open with qualifying delayed for the second day in a row.

Tournament organisers came in for heavy criticism after beginning matches only an hour later than scheduled on Tuesday and playing through the day despite conditions indicating a danger to health.

Several players complained of breathing issues, with Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic retiring during her first-round match after collapsing on court.

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Melbourne again woke up to a smoky haze from the bush fires that have devastated parts of the country and continue to burn out of control.

This time organisers pushed back the start by three hours to 1pm when, although the air quality index continued to show conditions as “unhealthy”, the sky was noticeably clearer.

The main challenge for the players was stifling heat, although that was broken by a fierce thunderstorm which hit Melbourne Park late in the afternoon and sent players scurrying for the locker rooms.

The Australian Open has a scale for determining when play should be suspended because of heat but has not announced what parameters it is working to regarding air quality.

The chief health officer for the state of Victoria, Dr Brett Sutton, called for that to change yesterday, telling local media: “Tennis Australia needs to work up an air 
quality policy.

“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.”

Tournament director Craig Tiley said strategies were being considered, including playing matches indoors, with three roofed stadia at Melbourne Park and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park National Tennis Centre to call upon if required.

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A statement read: “Conditions are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists.

“Measurements early this morning were similar to yesterday, when practice and play were suspended and delayed. Conditions yesterday were forecast to improve throughout the day, which is what occurred.”

The latest problem to affect qualifying though is rain and organisers were forced to call off qualifying for the day due to it, with more forecast.

Meanwhile, players including Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer took part in a special exhibition yesterday titled “Rally for Relief” to raise funds to help communities affected by the bush fire disaster. It was announced yesterday that the sport had so far raised more than £2.5million.

Tiley said: “It was incredible to be in Rod Laver Arena to see the global tennis community come together to support bushfire relief efforts. My wish is for Australian Open 2020 to be remembered as much for the good we’ve done for these fire-ravaged communities as for the spectacular tennis.”

World No 1 Nadal announced that he and Federer were teaming up to pledge further funds toward the effort, saying: “Talking with Roger a couple of hours ago we decided to give 250,000 Australian dollars (£132,000) to the bushfire relief together.

“Hopefully that keeps inspiring the people and it helps recover all the things that we need.”

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer added: “It was an absolute pleasure to be here playing with all the other legends of the game. This is the way to do it, we all come together for other people.”