The controversy surrounding the upcoming Australian Open continues to grow as Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley denied that any players from the tournament have tested positive for Covid-19, hours after the Victorian government said two players had confirmed cases earlier in the day.
Tiley told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that of seven confirmed cases from three chartered flights into Melbourne, one was a flight attendant and the rest were part of player entourages. Tiley said he could not comment on the statement from the government and acknowledged that several players had shown viral shedding suggesting they had been previously infected.
Players arriving in the Australian state of Victoria have been placed into a 14-day quarantine ahead of their grand slam matches. Most have been allotted five hours each day to go out and train in strict bio-secure bubbles, but 72 players have been unable to leave their hotel rooms and cannot practice, under strict quarantine rules after passengers on their flights tested positive for Covid-19.
As a result some athletes have expressed frustration at the situation they have found themselves in and raised concerns that those who are allowed out could have an unfair advantage.
Tiley also addressed accusations from some players who have said risk of strict quarantine was not properly communicated prior to departure for Australia. He said event organizers were in touch with players’ groups frequently and the idea that they didn’t know about quarantine policies is “simply not true.”
The tournament director believes some players may have had different experiences in the pandemic and had brushed off the reality of what quarantine would be like as they hadn’t experienced one themselves.
When asked about accommodations being made for the 72 players under hard lockdown, Tiley said Tennis Australia has “great deal of empathy to supporting them.”
“I don’t know exactly what that means yet but we’ll definitely look at scheduling, practice courts, practice times, courts where they practice, availability of time and they will have the priority.”
Australia has allowed 1,270 foreigners to enter the country to participate in the event in the face of some of the world’s most stringent arrival policies. Last year, the Victoria state capital Melbourne — the second-most populous city in Australia — was plunged into a brutal lockdown for 111 days.
Aware that many are looking to the Australian Open as a preview of the potential logistical challenges for hosting large-scale international sporting events in the middle of a pandemic, Tiley said, “I don’t think any of us grasped the difficulty of managing such a mammoth task in delivering this.”
“I think we’ll provide a lot of intelligence for the Olympic games,” he said of the logistics for athletes.
“If we pull this off, I’m a lot more confident in the Olympic games being able to happen too.”
Read more on the Australian Open turmoil here: