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As the sporting world attempts to reschedule events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, major questions will begin to rise surrounding the feasibility and player safety around compacted seasons. On Tuesday, Roland Garros announced the decision to move the 2020 French Open from May 24 to Sept. 20.
“The current confinement measures have made it impossible for us to continue with the dates originally planned,” tournament organizers said in a press release.
The new start date puts the French Open just one week after the U.S. Open finals are set to be played. It also currently clashes a few other tour events, including the Wuhan Open in China, set to be played from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3. With Wuhan being the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, it seems unlikely this will go on as planned. The new date also clashes with the Roger Federer’s team exhibition event, The Laver Cup, scheduled to take place Sept. 25.
The close proximity to the U.S. Open finals means an extremely short window for recovery between slams, and Canada’s Vasek Pospisil was rightfully furious with the scheduling change.
The release states that the decision to move dates was “made in the interest of both the community of professional tennis players,” even though the players weren’t consulted in the decision-making process.
Pospisil provided more context to his displeasure with the decision later on Tuesday in an interview with the New York Times.
“That’s insane,” Pospisil said. “These are really rough times, unprecedented times, and this just goes against the whole idea of the tour working together. We have a calendar. We have discussions and negotiations between the Grand Slams and the ATP. We are always trying to make it work for everybody, and they just haven’t consulted the ATP, the players or the other tournaments. It’s just a very selfish move. They are basically doing a power play right now, and it’s quite arrogant.”
The 29-year-old B.C. native wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the decision. Naomi Osaka, one of the biggest stars in the game, also expressed her disbelief.
Unite the players
This isn’t the first time a player has called out the need for players to unionize. Prior to last year’s Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, the president of the ATP Player Council, tried to rally his fellow players to form their own union to fight for a greater share of prize money and more say over the schedule.
"We’re just adding events, official events, unofficial events, and it just feels a from a player’s perspective that you’re kind of always in a rush, you’re always obliged to play the mandatory events,” Djokovic told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"You obviously have always a big challenge to defend points because it affects everything. You're always constantly week after week being part of that dynamic of our sport which at times seems a bit too much."
As it stands now, tennis doesn’t have a true players’ union. The ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis players, is a partnership between the players and tournament organizers, excluding the four Grand Slams. All decisions are voted on by the ATP’s board of directors, which includes three player reps, three tournament reps and chairman Andrea Gaudenzi.
This is the first instance of a Grand Slam being affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells was postponed on March 8, and following that decision the WTA and ATP began announcing cancellations of various tournaments in response to the viral outbreak. The next Grand Slam, Wimbledon, is scheduled to begin in late June.
It’s difficult to predict the state of the pandemic that far in advance, but this week has seen the cancellation of countless major sporting events worldwide, including Euro 2020 which was scheduled to kick off only a few weeks before Wimbledon.
Impact on Olympics
Somehow as every other sport is either delayed, postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still planning to go ahead as scheduled beginning on July 24. The French Open was supposed to be the cutoff for ATP and WTA ranking points to determine which players were eligible to compete at Tokyo 2020.
On Tuesday the International Olympic Committee released a statement encouraging Olympic athletes to continue training, and said its top priority is to “protect the health of everyone involved and to support the containment of the virus.”
The IOC has made it clear it has no intention of holding the Games without fans in attendance and remains confident the virus will be contained in time.
“The IOC remains fully committed to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive.”
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