A day before its start, the Indian Wells tournament, one of the most important on the world tennis calendar, became the first major sporting event canceled in the United States for fear of the advance of the coronavirus.
This men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) circuit tournament, where the best tennis players in the world attend each year, was scheduled to take place from March 9 to 22 in Riverside County (about 200 km east of Los Angeles) .
In a statement, tournament organizers said the decision to suspend it was made after the Riverside Department of Public Health “declared a health emergency for the Coachella Valley following a locally confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19). ».
“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not be played, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors and everyone involved in the event is of paramount importance,” declared the tournament director, former German tennis player Tommy Haas.
“We are prepared to host the tournament on another date and will explore options,” he added.
In previous days, the organizers of Indian Wells had announced a series of prevention measures for the tournament, but they also already offered all those fans who prefer not to attend the refund of tickets, or their replacement with tickets for 2021.
The next ATP and WTA tournament is the Miami Open, scheduled for March 23. The circuits later moved to Europe for the start of the clay-court season with events in Rome –Italy is the European country most affected by the epidemic– and the Roland Garros Grand Slam in Paris.
In a statement, the president of the WTA, Steve Simon, said he understood the decision of Indian Wells since “health and safety always come first” and clarified that no decision has been made for the following events.
“It is too early to speculate what will happen to the tournaments that follow,” he said.
– ‘Too great a risk’ –
Many tennis players had already arrived in the desert town of Indian Wells to compete in qualifying rounds starting Monday.
“We are here and still deciding what is next,” wrote the Spaniard Rafa Nadal on his Twitter account, in a message in which he said he was “very sad for everything that is happening around the world with this situation.”
“Hopefully soon (there are) solutions from the authorities. May you all be safe and well, “added Nadal.
In their decision, the organizers took into account the large volume of people, around 400,000, who each year travel to Indian Wells to enjoy one of the most important tournaments outside of the four Grand Slams, which distributes more than 17 million dollars in prizes.
“There is too great a risk, right now, to public health in the Riverside County area to host an event of this size,” said Dr. David Agus, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, at the University of Southern California. Indian Wells statement.
The organizers also followed the information of the national and local authorities. The state of California, the most populous in the United States, had declared a state of emergency on Wednesday after confirming the first death from the outbreak and more than 50 other cases.
– Prevention and information –
In previous days, the tournament had announced that it would reinforce the cleaning of the facilities and implement measures such as the delivery of gloves for the ball boys, the obligation that only the players could touch their towels and the recommendation that they not exchange objects with the fans.
On Saturday, the ATP and WTA said they would take similar action for their events in the coming months.
Argentine tennis player Diego Schwartzman considered the cancellation as “totally understandable” but at the same time regretted the lack of information received by tennis players.
“It would be good if ATP Tour communicates a little better to the players of a suspension of such a tournament when we are all here … finding out through social networks or WhatsApp is quite weak,” said number 13 of the ATP ranking on Twitter.
The coronavirus epidemic has impacted the world of sports causing the cancellation of numerous tournaments and events in countries such as Italy and Japan.
In the United States, no professional league has suspended games, but the NBA asked its teams to prepare for the possibility of having to play without fans.
More than 500 people have been infected by the virus in thirty US states and at least 19 have died. AFP