As tennis fans around the world lament what has long-since become the inevitable cancellation of year’s Wimbledon Championships, a more galling prospect may soon loom large on the landscape of the sport amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
After confirmation arrived last week that The Championships would not be played without spectators, the committee at the All England Club had no decision to make as they convened an extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday and confirmed Wimbledon would not take place for the first time since the World War II.
They were hoping for advice from the British government that could have activated some additional insurance arrangement, but it appears the financial damage to Wimbledon will be diluted by existing policies that will be activated to cover the cost of ticket sales to what is already a sold-out 13-day event.
So while French Open officials have admitted the postponement of their event – which has already been moved from its initial date in late May to a speculative new date of late September – could cost the federation up to €250m in lost revenue from TV rights, sponsorship and ticket sales, Wimbledon have suggested their shortfall will be considerably less.
Figures from 2018 showed that The Championships had an annual turnover of £254.8m, but there is an expectation that one year without tennis on the famous grass courts at SW19 can be absorbed so long as the crisis that is now gripping tennis can be ended swiftly.
Therein lies the bigger problem for the sport moving forward.
While it may be conceivable that the English football season could restart later this year if players are quarantined for an extended period and matches are played in quick succession in a bid to save television revenue, such a plan could not be used in sports like tennis or golf.
Team sports with players all based in one location may explore the options of being relaunched in a controlled environment, but the idea that individual sports featuring players from all around the world could be staged any time soon seems fanciful, even though there are hopes that golfing events like The Masters and the Ryder Cup could still be played later this year.
With the Covid-19 crisis yet to reach a peak in France, the notion that the country will be fully operational and open for business in time for the rescheduled French Open at Roland Garros seems highly optimistic, with travel bans and flight restrictions likely to still be in place in late September.
European-based stars such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could conceivably play the French Open if it was deemed safe for them to play, but could Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Australian’s Nick Kyrgios get to France get to Paris to compete? In addition, with the coronavirus crisis in America only at a formative stage, it seems unlikely it will end as swiftly as their bumbling President Donald Trump believes it will.
Given the scale of the crisis that has only just started to develop in several parts of America, it is hard to imagine the prospect of Serena Williams and rising star Coco Gauff jumping on a plane to Paris to play tennis any time soon, with 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo among those suggesting tennis faces a long time in the shadows.
“I think we are going to have to draw a line under the tennis season… no vaccine = no tennis,” stated the former world No 1 in a tweet on Wednesday and already, Australian tennis chief Craig Tiley has hinted that the first Grand Slam of 2021 in Melbourne could be under threat due to the pandemic.
If Mauresmo’s warning that tennis cannot resume until a vaccine is found to end the menace of Covid-19, the expectation that such a game-changer will not be available until the middle of next year raises a prospect few in tennis would wish to consider today.
The pain of cancelling Wimbledon this year pales into insignificance amid the current global crisis, but the clock is already ticking to try and save the sport’s most iconic event in 2021.
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