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Australian Open turmoil raises questions for Tokyo Games


In response, Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews said: “People area free to provide lists of demands, but the answer is no.”

Athletes have also raised concerns over whether those who can go out and train would have an unfair advantage over their competitors who have to isolate.

Canadian player Vasek Pospisil was a passenger on one of the three flights into Melbourne that had a handful of positive Covid-19 tests from those on board, meaning he is barred from going out to train during quarantine.

He told CNN that the level of risk of an entire group on a flight having to undergo strict quarantine wasn’t properly communicated to the players ahead of time, a claim Tennis Australia refutes.

“All the players, we understood that if somebody tested positive that it would just be the group, like if somebody in your staff tested positive, then you would have to be quarantined; you wouldn’t be able to practice. There wasn’t any discussion about the whole plane going that way, so obviously it was a huge surprise to everybody,” he said from his hotel room in Melbourne.

But many Australians appear to have little sympathy for the athletes, many of whom have flown in from coronavirus hotspots to compete for a share of total prizes worth 71.5 million Australian dollars ($55.1 million).

The Victoria state capital Melbourne, the second-most populous city in Australia, was under a hard lockdown for 111 days last year. Residents contended with a curfew, closures of businesses, bans on leaving their homes, online schooling and job losses.

Some Melbourne residents expressed concerns about the impact on the community once the players have left post tournament. Many are worried restrictions could be reimposed if the virus — particularly new, potentially more transmissible variants — managed to get into the population because of the tournament.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic stands on the balcony at his accommodation in Adelaide, Australia, on January 19, 2021.

New cases linked to the tournament

On Monday, Victoria reported four new Covid-19 cases, three of which are related to the Australian Open, according to the state government of Victoria. The number of people linked to the tournament that have tested positive for the virus is now seven, after two cases were reclassified as “shedding,” rather than being actively infected. Among the new cases are two unnamed players and one non-playing participant.

“I think that the players are lacking perspective as they have been playing in countries where Covid is nuts,” Melbourne resident and Grade 5 teacher Sarah Fuller told CNN.

“Melbourne, after being through so much does not want any more restrictions or hard lockdowns due to the virus getting out. So for me, it just demonstrates a lack of understanding of where they are in the world and that it’s a privilege to be able to play the game they do as their job.”

Like many people across the world, Fuller and her husband Trevor have had to navigate the struggles of extra hours working from home and keeping her students engaged in online learning through the pandemic. With family in another state, and the death of a grandparent, Fuller said it has been “exhausting.”

Fuller and her husband are avid tennis fans and usually buy tickets to the Australian Open. This year, the players, she said, are experiencing just a taste of the restrictions that herself and many others have lived under during the pandemic.

Australian Open tennis stars get creative with practice while stuck in hotel quarantineAustralian Open tennis stars get creative with practice while stuck in hotel quarantine

“Yes it’s difficult, it’s not ideal and not normal, but nothing is ‘normal.’ But it’s about keeping the community safe and what we have been able to create is a relatively Covid-free Australia.”

Australia has managed to handle the pandemic better than many countries, in part thanks to quick action from the state governments. Greater Brisbane, for example, went into a three-day lockdown earlier this month after a case of the coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom was discovered.
According to the Victoria state government’s website on Tuesday there are 34 active cases in the region, with four internationally acquired and in quarantine in the last 24 hours, with none acquired locally in that time period.
Some have pointed to the unfairness of players being able to travel and train in Melbourne while residents in other states need to apply for a permit in order to cross the internal border to Victoria. Those people who have been to “red zones” over the past 14 days — including Victoria residents — cannot reenter the state.

There are also calls to prioritize the more than 38,000 Australians who remain stuck overseas, unable to return in part due to limits on daily international arrivals.

Seeing the number of players and officials chartering flights into the country is likely to fuel the anger and desperation of many Australians abroad who have been waiting for months to return, many with no jobs or housing and facing financial hardships.

Path to Tokyo 2020

The controversy has exposed the difficulties of operating a large international tournament ensuring strict coronavirus rules are followed, while maintaining an even playing field for competitors.

All eyes will be on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which despite being pushed back a year owing to the pandemic, has elected to keep the 2020 tag. The event will see athletes from all over the world descend on Japan this summer from July 23 to August 8, and the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5.

Japan has signaled it is determined to go ahead with the Games. In a New Year’s address to Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee staff, Chairman Yoshiro Mori said that preparations would proceed “as planned.”

Covid-19 countermeasures include athletes being tested at least once every four days and traced throughout their stay and “contact with athletes will be kept to a minimum,” according to an interim report published on December 2.
Japan expands state of emergency and bans entry of foreign nationals as coronavirus as infections climbJapan expands state of emergency and bans entry of foreign nationals as coronavirus as infections climb

Details are scant but a scheme would allow athletes “to engage in various activities including training and participating in competitions during the 14 day self-isolation period after arrival,” the report said.

But Olympic officials are facing difficult decisions due to rising Covid-19 cases in the country. A recent poll by Japanese public broadcaster NHK found that 77% of respondents felt the Games should be postponed again or completely canceled, with only 16% in favor of holding them this year.

It comes as the capital Tokyo, along with major cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu, Tochigi and Fukuoka — covering much of Japan’s main island of Honshu — have been placed under a coronavirus state of emergency. The total number of confirmed cases in Tokyo now stands at 86,674 and the city is suffering from a shortage of hospital beds for virus patients.
The International Olympic Committee in December announced the opening and closing ceremonies will be pared-back in keeping with an “overall simplification of the Games.”

Speaking to CNN last week, former top International Olympic Committee official Dick Pound said that it was unlikely the Games could be postponed again, and so any additional delay would likely mean their cancellation.

“The one-year postponement was a proposal by Japan, the Organizing Committee said ‘look, we can hold this together for another year, but not further’,” he said. “Postponing it for another year, for example, will come at a huge cost, which Japan may not be willing to incur. It will further complicate a crowded sports schedule …you’re going to have the World Cup and football going on, and at some point it’s just there’s just too much congestion in the overall system.”

CNN has reached out to the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee for comment on its quarantine requirements for athletes.

CNN’s Patrick Snell contributed to this report.



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