A UEFA Champions League Round of 16 game, on March 11 between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid at Anfield, was the last high-profile sporting activity to take place in England. In hindsight, it was a match that should not have been played, or at least, should have taken place behind closed doors, for on that same day, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 as a pandemic.
Instead, at least 3,000 fans from Madrid – a city already in lockdown at the time – were allowed to enter the stadium, pubs, restaurants and hotels in Liverpool, and a day later, the host city faced 10 new cases of people testing positive for the coronavirus.
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The situation has become much worse all over the world ever since. But in the United Kingdom, that one fortnight in June-July, when the biggest stars in tennis – some who transcend sport – flock to the grass courts of Wimbledon, now hangs in the balance. The coronavirus has already forced the organisers of he French Open to reschedule to September, but by next week, the fate of this year’s Wimbledon Championships will be decided.
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“The unprecedented challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect our way of life in ways that we could not have imagined, and our thoughts are with all those affected in the UK and around the world. The single most important consideration is one of public health, and we are determined to act responsibly through
the decisions we make,” All England Lawn Tennis Club chief executive Richard Lewis said in a statement.
“We are working hard to bring certainty to our plans for 2020 and have convened an emergency meeting of the AELTC Main Board for next week, at which a decision will be made.”
When the Fédération Française de Tennis made the unilateral decision earlier this month to postpone the French Open from its usual spot in the last week of May and first week of June to a week after the US Open in September, players in particular were annoyed by the sudden change in schedule. Yet, given the clay surface used at Roland Garros, it was a shift that could have been made. For Wimbledon, the only grass-court major in the calendar, such a drastic shift is not an option since the amount of sun required for the surface will not be suitable in the latter months of the year.
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“At this time, based on the advice we have received from the public health authorities, the very short window available to us to stage The Championships due to the nature of our surface suggests that postponement is not without significant risk and difficulty. Playing behind closed doors has been formally ruled out,” read the statement on the Wimbledon website.
One possibility for the organisers is to make use of the now vacant spot made available by the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games. The main draw for Wimbledon is scheduled to start on June 29 and continue till the men’s singles final on July 12, while the Olympics were scheduled to start two weeks later on July 25.
Sources, however, told The Guardian that Wimbledon is unlikely to utilise the window made available by the Olympics, due to the “thinking (that it) is safer – and more convenient – to stick with the existing arrangements, however perilous in terms of planning, than disturb a system that has been in
place for years.”
Due to the current lockdown in place in the United Kingdom, only a small number of staff is presently permitted to continue work on site to maintain the grass courts and security.
Should The Championships be called off this year, it will be the first time for it to have happened in 75 years, after it was not held from 1940 to 1945 due to the Second World War.
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