SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Open boss Craig Tiley feels organising the 2022 edition of the Grand Slam has been “10 times” more difficult than this year’s edition as the highly infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 takes hold Down Under.
Tiley and his team put in a Herculean effort to stage the tournament safely in February when Australia still had its borders closed, spending a fortune on biosecurity measures to reassure the local community.
Twelve months on and things have not got any easier for Tennis Australia with Omicron spreading through the country just as the first players are set to arrive for warm-up events ahead of the Melbourne Park tournament.
“2022 has been 10 times harder than 2021,” Tiley said. “It was a walk in the park in comparison to this one.
“2021 was hard but it hasn’t been easy. So many variables. It’s something new, but you wake up in the morning with your team and you just hope they hang in there.”
While 1,000 players and staff who arrived from abroad were put into a two-week quarantine for the 2021 edition, the 3,300 coming for next year’s tournament will be free to roam the city once they have returned a negative PCR test.
Everybody in the Melbourne Park precinct in January will need to be vaccinated or hold a medical exemption granted by the Australian health authorities.
That in itself will present a challenge to manage but full crowds will offer Tennis Australia the chance to recoup some of the A$100 million ($72.2 million) they lost in the 15 months around the 2021 tournament.
Tiley still expected some participants to test positive for the virus but confirmed that, unlike last year, close contacts will have to isolate only until they return a negative test.
“If they are sharing a room with someone, or they’re in the same apartment and someone in that group tests positive, everyone in that room or that apartment has to isolate for seven days,” Tiley added.
“So the advice we’ve given the players, it’s a simple one, ‘get your own room’.”
Tiley was confident the organisers will be able to efficiently manage the health protocols and the tournament will start without any delay on Jan. 17.
“In 2021 we were about protecting the community from the players which were coming from environments that were ravaged with the virus that we didn’t have,” Tiley said.
“In 2022, it’s about keeping the players and our patrons on site from not getting Omicron, not getting any variants of the virus.”
($1 = 1.3843 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)