‘Hazardous’ air pollution halts Australian Open practice

Above, the Melbourne skyline is shrouded by haze from bushfires during an Australian Open practice session at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. (AAP Image via Reuters)
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Updated 14 January 2020

‘Hazardous’ air pollution halts Australian Open practice

  • Players and one prominent coach voiced concern after the sudden deterioration in conditions
  • A small number of sports events have fallen victim to thick smoke since the fires first ignited

MELBOURNE: Soaring pollution halted Australian Open practice and delayed qualifying on Tuesday as smoke from raging bushfires hit the build-up to the season’s opening Grand Slam.
Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic retired with breathing difficulties, but it was not immediately clear whether her problems were related to the smoggy air.
Players and one prominent coach voiced concern after the sudden deterioration in conditions, following months of deadly bushfires that have engulfed huge swathes of the Australian countryside.
Air quality in Melbourne, habitually ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities, was among the worst on the planet and described as “hazardous” by city authorities.
Residents “should try to stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and keep pets inside,” the City of Melbourne tweeted.

Tennis officials have said there is little chance of the Australian Open being delayed, but that air quality is being monitored and umpires can halt matches to protect players’ health.
“Practice was temporarily suspended this morning due to poor air quality,” organizers said in a statement. “Conditions onsite are improving and are being constantly monitored.”
Alexander Zverev and David Goffin had been due on the Melbourne Park courts first, followed by world number one Rafael Nadal, who was seen arriving at the venue.
“Not the best air quality this morning in #Melbourne,” tweeted Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach, with a photo of the city shrouded in smog.

The first day of qualifying got underway, slightly later than expected, but there were concerns when Jakupovic, the world number 201, suffered severe coughing and retired when a set up against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele.
Elsewhere in Melbourne, Maria Sharapova took to the court as scheduled against Germany’s Laura Siegemund at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament.
She is set to be followed by Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov facing Croat Borna Coric.
“The health and safety of the players, spectators and all involved in the Kooyong Classic event is paramount,” said tournament director Peter Johnston.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said there was widespread smoke across central and eastern Victoria state, including Melbourne, which was expected to clear by Wednesday afternoon.
Mandy Minella, the world number 140 from Luxembourg, said she was “shocked” that Australian Open qualifying was allowed to take place.
“Shocked to see that qualifying matches have started @Australian Open. What about the health of all the people that have to work out there, especially the ballkids?” she tweeted.

And America’s Noah Rubin complained on Twitter that players weren’t being kept up to date, saying “lack of information on how to proceed is scary.”

Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley rejected the criticism, telling reporters “everyone was sent an email.”
“It’s unfortunate he missed that announcement for a variety of reasons,” he said, adding that all decisions were made on expert advice.
Tiley last week said it was unlikely that the Grand Slam would be delayed, regardless of the conditions after world number two Novak Djokovic suggested the option should be on the table.
Tiley noted that Melbourne Park has three roofed stadiums and eight other indoor courts, while meteorological and air-quality experts will be on site to monitor conditions.
Any smoke hazards will be treated in a similar way to extreme heat and rain, with umpires able to stop play if it is considered too dangerous to continue.
A small number of sports events have fallen victim to thick smoke since the fires first ignited, including last month’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge in Sydney and a Big Bash cricket match in Canberra.
But dozens of other sports fixtures have gone ahead.
Sports stars, including leading tennis players, have been quick to respond to the crisis, pledging money to relief efforts.
Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Nadal are set to headline fundraising exhibition at Melbourne Park on Wednesday.


What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.