Friday, February 26, 2021

Spectators to be allowed at French Open despite Covid-19 fears

The tournament will allow 11,500 spectators per day, split into three different zones, with strict social distancing measures in place and no movement between courts.

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Fans will be allowed at the French Open this month, despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in France.

The tournament was in jeopardy of being cancelled but will now take place at the Roland Garros clay courts in western Paris between Sept 27 and Oct 11.

“Since the international tennis circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience,” French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.

Tournament director Guy Forget said all players will be tested upon their arrival in Paris. They will be authorised to play if they return a negative test and will undergo a second test 72 hours later. Players will then be tested every five days as long as they remain in the draw.

Players will have to stay in the two hotels booked by organisers.

Serena Williams and Maria Sakkari, after their spectator-free US Open match on Monday, questioned how the French can open the doors to fans but the players have to be in a bubble.

Qualifying matches will be played behind closed doors but then the tournament will allow 11,500 spectators per day, split into three different zones, with strict social distancing measures in place and no movement between courts. Empty seats will be left between household groups

Spectators will have to wear masks at all times, while all accredited people will have to pass virus tests.

France has seen a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks, surpassing 8,000 daily confirmed cases on Friday.

Some players have already raised concerns about safety after the decision was announced.

Women’s world number one Ash Barty is the first big name to drop out. She has confirmed she will not be returning to defend her French Open title due to concerns about coronavirus and a lack of preparation. The Australian, who was the first major name to withdraw from the US Open, said it was a “difficult decision to make”.

Jean-Francois Vilotte, the director general of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said: “The FFT has a responsibility to protect the health of anyone involved in the tournament.

“By setting an example, we hope to prove that we can get the economy back on track; though it goes without saying that certain conditions and restrictions must be respected.”

Organisers have also decided to give more money to the early losers in the competition, in a gesture of solidarity toward the players who have been the hardest hit financially by the Covid-19 crisis.

Pundits are saying it will be interesting to see if French tennis can pull off a successful tournament with no spike in infections.

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