OPINION: As Much as Anything, COVID-19 Threatens Fan Experiences at 2020 Tournaments
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
The BNP Paribas Open today announced measures to cope with the somewhat-sensationalized threat of the spread of the latest coronavirus infecting humans and destroying retirement accounts. Among them are guaranteed refunds, hand sanitizing stations, no one but players touching their own towels, gloved ball people, and this one: “Organized player and fan interaction will be limited at the tournament.”
For those of us who haven’t been frightened to death by round-the-clock coverage of this flu, this news will be a setback for fans planning to attend. In the midst of the current occupant of the White House running the country into the ground and other bad news on television every night, I know I’ve been plowing into sports as a refuge and I suspect there are millions more like me.
Johns Hopkins University, located in Baltimore, is the host of the early rounds of the NCAA Division III basketball tournament. They made news yesterday by announcing that their games would be played without fans. If Baltimore was Beijing and if Indian Wells were instead Wuhan, I’d understand the drastic measures.
I suspect that the term “organized player and fan interaction” means more than a couple of autograph sessions. It is highly likely that the policy will curtail post-match, spontaneous “player and fan interaction” as well. Security guards love to boss around the teeming tennis masses as they ask for a selfie, and this will give the muscle another opportunity to exercise their snooty dominion over spectators and players. All of this portends for a poorer fan experience at the tournament, and the possibility that subsequent cities on the American mini-swing such as Miami and Charleston, will be forced to follow suit to prevent them being seen as insufficiently prepared.
If the measures taken at the Tennis Garden are in fact, in place to protect players, then why wouldn’t the sport already limit player/fan interactions? Illness to a player, even for a week, can potentially cost them hundreds of thousand of dollars in lost income. Influenza A is far more common than COVID-19, and if a fan sneezes on a player while requesting an autograph, the results could be equally problematic.
I can only hope that this will be the last time these policies are put in place at a professional sporting event in 2020. For those who have died from or contracted COVID-19 or any form of influenza, I feel great sorrow. This, though, seems to be going too far and will cause unnecessary anxiety on the most vulnerable of groups: children and the elderly. Let’s hope the only hysteria we are left with by the end of 2020 is directed on court on a rising star, like Coco Gauff, Bianca Andreescu or Leylah Fernandez.
The tournament’s full statement is below:
“Following the direction and guidance of Dr. David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, and Martin Massiello, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Eisenhower Health, the BNP Paribas Open is taking action to continue prioritizing the health and safety of the fans, athletes, and everyone involved with the tournament.
First and foremost, any patron who has purchased tickets directly from the tournament may request a refund for the 2020 tournament, or a credit for the 2021 tournament. Patrons can visit http://www.bnpparibasopen.com/coronavirus to request a refund or credit.
Additional actions include:
More than 250 hand sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the facility
Players will be required to manage their own towel on court and ball kids will not touch or move player towels.
A chair will be placed at the back of the court for them to place their towel on for usage during the match.
Ball kids will wear gloves
Restaurant and food supply workers will wear gloves
Volunteers taking tickets at entrances will wear gloves
N95 masks are being secured for first aid and health personnel to be prepared for any circumstances that would necessitate the use thereof
Organized player and fan interaction will be limited at the tournament
All common areas throughout the facility will be cleaned daily with an antiviral application
Coordinating with local hospital and CDC approved testing for all individuals with symptoms
Further actions are being considered and evaluated on a daily basis in order to continue to ensure the safety of everyone associated with the event.”