Thursday, November 26, 2020

Faced with Covid-19 and controversy, Roland-Garros already on a thread

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Roland-Garrosse tennis tournament will be held at the end of September. But between the binding health protocol and a ghost of a second wave, the Paris competition hangs in a thread.

Roland-Garros usually starts with the first heat and summer. Covid-19 demands, the French Grand Slam tournament is accompanied this year by the first autumn rains and the disaster linked to the resumption of the pandemic. Between its expired dates, its almost closed session and its sanitation protocols, which are considered extremely strict by the circuit members, Roland-Garros plays a balancing act this year.

Qualifying for the tournament began on Monday, September 22 behind closed doors. The organizers of the tournament were also forced to revise down their ambitions in terms of the number of spectators. The optimism from the beginning of the summer gave way to realism at the beginning of the school year, marked by the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe.

From 20,000 to 5,000 spectators

In early July, the tournament still hoped to welcome a maximum of 20,000 daily spectators, or already “50 to 60% of its usual maximum”. Then a first plan validated by the health authorities approved the division of the arena for the tournament of 12 hectares and 1 km long into three “hermetic, independent and autonomous” sectors, organized around its three main courses.

But this option, which made it possible to receive up to 11,500 daily spectators, 5,000 at Philippe-Chatrier, as many at Suzanne-Lenglen and 1,500 at Simonne-Mathieu, in the garden of the Auteuil greenhouses, n did not resist . Ten days before the launch, Roland-Garros had no choice but to close further ranks: at best, there will only be 5,000 spectators in their seats. A further lowering of the meter does not seem to be ruled out, according to the health authorities.

A health protocoltoo much difficult?

In addition to this spectator issue, the players and their sports sequences are subject to a strict sanitation protocol reminiscent of the “sanitary bubble” implemented at the Tour de France.

Competitors are regularly subjected to PCR tests: the first two take place within 48 hours of arrival in Paris, then they are tested every four or five days.

Players also have a strict obligation to stay at one of the two hotels reserved for them almost exclusively. They do not have the right to leave, with the risk that their accreditation will be withdrawn, except to go to the stadium, only during match days, during training or for medical reasons. “But even for that, it will be very framed, with a dedicated car and a regular meeting,” says Bernard Montalvan.

According to coach Sven Groeneveld, who accompanies Japan’s Taro Daniel, coaches are even asked to wear a mask during training.

An anecdote illustrates the severity of the protocol: “On Sunday, a player was stuck in a traffic jam 500 meters from the hotel due to the Tour de France,” said Dr. Bernard Montalvan, head of the Paris Grand Slam health protocol, at AFP. “He called to see if he could get off” and go back, “he was told no”.

A complaint against the tournament

A severity that had its first consequences. On Sunday, the tournament announced that five players and the next day were excluded.

“Two players tested positive for Covid-19 and three other players declared contact cases for their coaches tested positive for Covid-19. In accordance with the health protocol, these five players were excluded from the qualification table (…) and will remain isolated for seven days,” said the Paris tournament in a statement before announcing the exclusion of a player in another statement.

Among the five players involved, Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, the ex-top 30 who fell back beyond 100th place in the world, pays the consequences of a positive test from his coach Petar Popovic, with whom he shares his hotel room. But the latter already had Covid-19 some time ago, which raises the question of the test’s reliability.

“We are sure it was a false positive because my coach has antibodies,” Dzumhur lamented on Instagram. “He was not allowed to take a second test. I am devastated.”

A test when they returned to Serbia confirmed their intuition. After contacting a lawyer, Popovic and Dzumhur intend to sue Roland-Garros, according to the daily newspaper Teamet “If I am prevented from fighting in court, I will fight in another type of court,” explains Damir Dzumhur.

According to the French newspaper, they could receive possible damages for the injuries suffered, whether they are sporting, moral or financial.

An “anxiety-provoking climate” for the players

“For us, it is only the PCR test that matters. We wrote it, the players read and signed it. If a coach (like Popovic, the editor’s remark) who has been ill sleeps with his player, in the same room, when he knows he can be tested positive, the player will be at risk. This is the reason why in the minutes we advised coaches to sleep in the same room (as their players) “, explains Dr. Bernard Montalvan.

However, this health protocol is a source of anxiety for many competitors, such as French Alizé Cornet. To BFM TVshe says that she arrives at Roland Garros with fear in her stomach: “I have received feedback from players who have been stranded in their rooms for almost 30 hours, I also think it is excessive,” she explains. I have the impression that everything is complicated, but at the same time we are all a little helpless in the face of this situation. It scares me, it’s crazy! I’m really struggling with the situation, more and more because of it. I tell myself that it can only be bad luck, after that we can also be really positive. But it is an anxiety-provoking climate for the players “.

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