Tennis Players And Officials Arrive In Melbourne Ahead Of 2021 Australian Open
The Australian Open has been hit with a wave of anger from players stuck in 14 days of hard hotel quarantine who claim they were not told they would be confined to their rooms if a person on their flight tested positive for COVID-19.
Their concerns come as Bianca Andreescu's coach, Sylvain Bruneau, says he was the positive coronavirus case aboard the flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.
Forty-seven players across two flights were forced into hard quarantine for two weeks from Saturday after two of the Australian Open charter flights carrying players to Melbourne had COVID-19 positive cases. Twenty-three of those players were on the flight from Abu Dhabi, the others from Los Angeles.
Russian world No.28 Yulia Putintseva wrote on Twitter: "What I don't understand is that why no one ever told us, if one person on board is positive the whole plane need to be isolated. I would think twice before coming here".
Romanian world No.71 Sorana Cirstea replied to Putintseva saying "if they told us this rule before I would not play Australia. I would have stayed home. They told us we would … be a close contact only if my team or cohort [those sitting close by on a flight] tests positive".
I agree...if they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia...I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive — Sorana Cirstea (@sorana_cirstea) January 16, 2021
Swiss world No.11 Belinda Bencic wrote on Twitter "Actually no we didn't [know what we signed up for], we made our decision to come here from rules that were sent to us. Then we arrived and received an information/rule book with more/new rules that we did not know about".
However, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the Today show on Sunday morning that the players were warned the final decision on who would have to do hard quarantine if there was a positive test on a flight was always going to be up to the health authorities.
"The determination of who was and who wasn't a close contact was going to be entirely up to the health department, and they're doing what they deem is necessary to keep our community safe," Tiley said.
"It has been unfortunate that two people have tested positive in that window, and as a result, the Chief Health Officer has determined that those individuals that were on the plane, everyone else on that plane is a close contact.
"We never know what the situation or decision would be coming in, and that has been made, and now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those players who unfortunately are not going to have the same conditions as those who are able to get out and practise."
Tiley said the players forced to do hard quarantine leading into the tournament, which begins on February 8, would get support.
"Obviously our first objective is that everyone remains as healthy as possible," he said. "We are reviewing the schedule leading in to see what we can do to assist these players, but obviously it's not something that we wanted to have happen, we were hoping every flight would be OK and that's why we took those mitigating measures.
"But we are in this situation, we have to deal with it, the Australian Open is going ahead. And we will continue to do the best we can possibly do to ensure those players have what is not a great situation, one that is somewhat acceptable."
He said he understood the players' reaction, but the No.1 objective for tennis and health authorities was safety.
"I totally understand the emotion that the players are going through right now as well as their objection to the situation, but our objective, as well as that of the chief health officer, is to ensure everyone's safety. And we do not want to be the cause of any negative situation with the virus and that's why we are having these tough conditions."
Victorian Energy, Environment, and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said tennis players and officials were made aware of the Chief Health Officer's directions and definition of close contacts, but despite repeated questioning, did not say whether staff and players were told they may need to isolate if someone on their flight tested positive to coronavirus.
"It's far from ideal obviously, but COVID is far from ideal," she said. "Every Victorian and everyone who wishes to be in Victoria needs to abide by the rules. Whether they are playing or non-playing staff … all the prerequisites were made very, very clear."
Tiley said the players in hard lockdown would not be barred from competing in lead-in tournaments, which are due to begin on January 31 (women) and February 1 (men) before the grand slam gets underway on February 8.
"[Whether players take part in lead-up tournaments is] entirely up to the players on what type of preparation they think they're going to get. Obviously, they're not going to get at this point on-court preparation, there are still some decisions to be made today and tomorrow," he said.
"But we'll just assess that, we'll work with each of the players to see what's best. If we have to make some adjustments to the schedule, we'll see if we have to do that. We're going to do whatever we can to make it an environment that is fair for those players."
But he said the Australian Open itself would not be moved.
"We are planning on February 8, we do have that buffer time in there [between the end of quarantine and the start of the tournament] and ... we are looking forward to welcoming fans to the Australian Open, ticket sales have been going well, we've got two weeks of some great tennis and our intention is to absolutely continue with those dates."
Bruneau released a statement saying he had followed all protocols and procedures, including producing a negative test within 72 hours before the flight departure, and has "no idea how I might have contracted the virus".
"I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone's shoulders sharing my flight. The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum," he said.
The other flight, from Los Angeles to Melbourne, had two positive cases on board - a crew member, and an Australian Open participant who is not a player. As a result, 24 players were sent into hard quarantine.