Do we need to start to talk about the 2022 Australian Open?

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Who would have thought the biggest obstacle between Novak Djokovic and another Australian Open title in 2022 is potentially…Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison?

Being a Melburnian who covers the tennis, it has been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last year and a bit. I remember in April last year thinking that Australian Open organisers would be breathing a sigh of relief that they were able to get through the 2020 edition prior to the world being severely impacted by COVID-19, yet here we are nearly 16 months after a pandemic was called and I have genuine concerns about the 2022 version of the event.

I have been keeping a close eye on the language used around sport in Australia, and also the news around border security. For those who live outside of Australia, the entire east coast of the country (Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Victoria) are all currently under lockdowns of various degrees. I can currently only leave home to go to my essential work, to shop for essentials food or supplies, to exercise, to provide care, or to get vaccinated.

It is just under 5 months until the summer of Australian tennis, which is still scheduled to take place all around the nation and culminates in the Australian Open. There are currently some pretty major question marks that need to be discussed.

For tennis and Australian Open fans, here are some of the thoughts and questions that need to be considered:

1)      Players will not agree to a 14 day quarantine period again.

And that is completely fair enough. Not only did the 2021 edition of the Australian Open get delayed by nearly a month, it also led to a number of players ending up in ‘hard quarantine’, not able to leave their rooms for the 14 days due to being close contacts to someone testing positive. In some instances, such as Paula Badosa, their time in quarantine was extended.

In other instances, players had to share their rooms with the local wildlife.

This whole process tested not only the players, but also the patience of the Victorian population, tennis and non-tennis lovers alike. Whilst more appropriate in 2021 given the state of the world, Australia is now significantly lagging behind with vaccination rates, and it is impossible to expect the players to do the same this year.

It is also worth mentioning that at the time of writing this in August 2021, there are still people who call Australia home that are stranded overseas and unable to return.

2) How much will the 2022 edition cost, especially with the threat of no crowds and snap lockdowns impacting the tournament again?

The emergency funds were drained for 2020, with reports of losses close to $100 million for this year’s edition of the tournament, as reported in The Age last month. A couple of concerning quotes came out of that article in my opinion. Craig Tiley, Tennis Australia CEO, when asked about the 2022 edition, said the following:

“We want to do it with crowds. We know we can get the players here. The two weeks of hard, strict quarantine will not be something that we can encourage the players to participate in but, by that point, we will all be vaccinated, if we have played our part, the part we should play to do the right thing by protecting others in the community.”

We are now into the second week in August, and currently 16.8% of Australians have received two doses of their vaccination. 17 months after the pandemic started, the official COVID-19 national vaccine campaign plan was released last week, with their plan of 80% of Australians to be vaccinated by the end of the year. As reported by Misha Ketchell on The Conversation, some experts have suggested this goal is too low, and the goals are reliant “the willingness of Pfizer to bring forward supplies and the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s timely approval of the Moderna vaccine.”

It is also reliant on the significant volume of Astrazeneca doses being utilised, which is proving difficult given vaccine hesitancy by many, but that is an article for someone else to write (although I have had 2 x AZ vaccine doses in March and June and I still seem to be here).

3) Tiley said “we will all be vaccinated” – but what about the players?

The assumptions of many have suggested that once a particular percentage of Australians are vaccinated that relative freedoms will be reinstated, for those leaving Australia but also entering Australia. Given the thoughts expressed by a number of Tennys tennis players regarding vaccination status, could we see vaccinated players having far more freedom and less quarantine requirements if the tournament goes ahead?

4) The Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix cancellation raises concerns for a January Australian Open start.

It was just over a month ago that the Melbourne Grand Prix, which was originally slated for November 19-21, was called off. The call was made early based on the projections around opening up Melbourne and Australia, and that it wasn’t feasible to be run in 2021, and they couldn’t take the risk of a repeat of 2020, when fans were told the race was cancelled whilst they lined up outside the gates. With the Australian tennis summer starting 6 weeks later, it is hard to see this process playing out smoothly.

So…where to from here?

For the Australian Open to go ahead on current advice, 63% more of the Australian population need to become fully vaccinated in the next 4-5 months. With limited Pfizer doses trickling into the country, and so much hesitancy around AZ vaccinations, this looks to be a tough goal to reach.

Unless Scott Morrison finds a way to improve the vaccine rollout Australia-wide, it is hard to see Novak Djokovic raising another Australian Open trophy in January 2022.

Will we see the tournament go ahead in January, the entire calendar be reshuffled, or the tournament not held in 2022? Only time will tell. Considering I cannot walk down the street to the pub at the moment here in Melbourne, it is hard to picture everything running smoothly with nationwide tournaments and international participants in what is a matter of months.

Novak Djokovic fans, feel free to tweet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison here, and let him know he needs to get his act together, or this bond may in fact be broken:

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