When the Australian Open begins, the grandstands may offer the closest thing to sports normalcy that the world has seen in nearly a year.
Up to 30,000 spectators a day will be allowed to attend the tennis tournament in Melbourne when it begins Feb. 8, the sports minister of the state of Victoria said Saturday. Melbourne is Victoria's capital.
While a crowd of 30,000 is a rarity in international sports these days, overall attendance figures at the Australian Open will ultimately be down by about half from a normal year. Some 820,000 spectators attended the two-week tournament in 2020.
This year, organizers have created an intricate system in which spectators will only be allowed to travel within one of three zones at Melbourne Park, a move aimed at limiting social contact.
Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, has been negotiating for months with health officials about letting spectators into the event. He said Friday that the tournament would begin at 50% capacity. That could grow to 75% in the final week, he added, when action is limited to stadium courts.
The announcement by Victoria's sports minister, Martin Pakula, came as hundreds of players who had traveled from overseas for the tournament entered their final days of quarantine. Most of them were allowed out of their hotel rooms for five hours a day for training and practice.
But 72 players who were forced to endure a hard 14-day lockdown were only able to begin practicing this weekend. That lockdown was imposed after testing revealed 10 acute positive cases among more than 1,000 people who traveled to Australia for the event, including one player.
Tiley said that ticket sales had begun to pick up in recent days, after coming to a standstill following the handful of positive tests and a backlash in the community against players who complained about having to stay in quarantine even though they continued to test negative.
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Written by: Matthew Futterman
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