Will bushfires affect Australian Open tennis?

The Australian Open tennis Grand Slam starts next week in the midst of a bushfire crisis that has left at least 27 people dead and destroyed more than 2000 homes.

Toxic air pollution clouded Melbourne on Tuesday, halting practice sessions and slightly delaying qualifying.

AFP Sport looks at the implications for players and fans at the first Major tennis tournament of the year, which starts on Monday:

What are the dangers?

Air pollution could pose health problems for players, fans and officials, especially in the high temperatures of the Australian summer. 

Until Tuesday, Melbourne hadn’t been as badly affected as Canberra or Sydney, but conditions deteriorated suddenly.


Air pollution shot up to “hazardous” levels, city authorities said, telling residents to stay indoors and keep pets inside.

Australian Open practice was suspended and qualifying delayed. Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic had to retire from her match after suffering a coughing fit, although it wasn’t clear if pollution was to blame.

However, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley has said he expects the tournament to go ahead as scheduled. 

“We don’t expect any delays and we’ve implemented additional measures to ensure the Australian Open will be able to run as scheduled,” Tiley said last week.

How bad can it get?

Fires are still burning in Victoria, where Melbourne is the state capital, and could continue throughout the tournament, with huge blazes to the city’s east. 

“It is going to depend on the prevailing winds and whether we have ongoing fires,” Christine Jenkins, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told AFP. 

“It’s still an open question just whether or not we could still have further periods of intense pollution.” 

On Tuesday, air quality monitors recorded pollution at 20 times greater than safe levels in some parts of Melbourne.

“There is very definitely the threat of fire that could cause significant air pollution in Melbourne,” Jenkins said.

What are the health risks?

Players who are recovering from respiratory tract infections are particularly at risk, as well as those with asthma. 

Pollution can irritate the respiratory tract, intensifying and prolonging symptoms — but the health dangers don’t stop there. 

“It [pollution] increases the risks of respiratory symptoms, cardiovascular disorder, eye symptoms, or mental disorders,” warned Professor Yuming Guo, head of the Climate, Air Quality Research Unit at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne. 

“All these would influence of the performance of the players.” 

What’s being done for players?

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 air monitoring shows it is too dangerous to continue. 

Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open, has three roofed stadiums and eight other indoor courts. While facemasks are impractical for players, Jenkins advised them to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.

“Staying well hydrated keeps the respiratory membranes well moistened and less prone to irritative symptoms,” she said. 

“Avoiding alcohol, getting plenty of rest, sleeping normal hours and not being outdoors any more than you need to be. Difficult for players, because they’re on practice courts and they’re constantly trying to keep their (practice) hours up.”

Have the fires affected other events?

Last month’s SOLAS Big Boat Challenge in Sydney was cancelled after thick smoke from bushfires sent visibility plunging on Sydney Harbour. A Big Bash cricket match in Canberra was also scrapped because of poor air quality and visibility. 

At the Australian Open golf tournament in Sydney last month, players complained of stinging eyes. and 2015 champion Matt Jones said conditions were some of the worse he had ever encountered. In November, Rally Australia, the last leg of the FIA World Rally Championship, was cancelled.

But most sports fixtures have gone ahead. Australia played cricket Test matches against New Zealand in Melbourne and Sydney. And the 10-day the ATP Cup tennis tournament has proceeded in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth without serious problems. 

Could the Australian Open be cancelled?

Unlikely. Even if air pollution remains high, organisers would be reluctant to axe what is perhaps Australia’s biggest sports event of the year, and one of only four Grand Slam tournaments on the tennis calendar.

According to The Australian newspaper, they will be well covered if they do: an insurance policy will provide a hefty pay-out stretching into nine figures in the event of a cancellation due to extreme weather.

However, at least one health expert would support delaying or axing the tournament altogether if air quality remains low.

“If the air pollution is still serious, it would be better to postpone or cancel it,” said Guo.

“People when playing or exercising are more affected by air pollution, because they inhale deeply forcing air into their lower respiratory system where air pollutants accumulate with prolonged exposure.”

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Agency
External source

Related stories

We sacrifice for Covid, so we can fight global warming

We just have to ask ourselves if we are as willing to sacrifice to save our grandchildren as we have shown ourselves to be when it came to trying to save older people, the sick and the poor from Covid-19

UN special rapporteur on the environment joins local air pollution case

The state is facing a court battle about big industry’s emissions and their link to poor health. This is a public health concern and the government must take action to save lives

Editorial: Next budget must be a hot issue

We are understandably focused on this crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, that is killing people and destroying livelihoods everywhere. But we are losing sight of the other crises that destroy life

Eskom lied to hide its deadly levels of pollution

Eskom says its air pollution kills more than 300 people a year. Other estimates put it at 10 times that

Rights group wins court bid against Engen

The Right2Know Campaign has been allowed to join a court case against Engen, which used the Regulation of Gatherings Act to ban protests outside its Durban refinery

Durban smokestacks back in court

Engen will oppose the application by civil rights nonproft Right2Know to be a friend of the court in the precedent-setting case
Advertising

New education policy on gender violence released

Universities and other higher education institutions have to develop ways of preventing or dealing with rape and other damaging behaviour

Cambridge Food Jozini: Pandemic or not, the price-gouging continues

The Competition Commission has fined Cambridge Food Jozini for hiking the price of its maize meal during April

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday