‘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)
Short Url
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.


Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.