Coronavirus pandemic

No advantage to Wimbledon as D-day looms

Organisers to hold emergency meeting as Grand Slam faces prospect of cancellation

LONDON • The All England Club will decide at an emergency meeting next week if it is advisable or even viable to hold this year's Wimbledon tournament. But the mood is downbeat, given the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to recent speculation, its outgoing chief executive, Richard Lewis, said on Wednesday the main board are "working hard to bring certainty to our plans" and would be consulting with the main stakeholders in tennis, including the ATP and WTA Tours.

Acknowledging a postponement would be difficult - no Grand Slam has been cancelled since 1945, the year World War II ended - Lewis added: "The single most important consideration is one of public health, and we are determined to act responsibly through the decisions we make."

Wimbledon is due to start on June 29, a date that sits perilously close to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's best-case forecast for a flattening out of the pandemic curve within 12 weeks.

As such, organisers of Wimbledon have abandoned plans to leave the decision until late April.

"With such uncertainty about, changing big, long-term contracts and setting mutually acceptable new dates is difficult and complicated, as can be seen from what has been happening with the Olympic Games," said an insider with long experience of negotiating international TV sporting deals.

"For that reason, I'd say the chances of Wimbledon going ahead in June are slim to zero. You go with it now or you call it off. It is a matter of finding a window and there aren't many of those for big sporting events."

He said the same strategic thinking underpinned Tuesday's decision by the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee to delay the Tokyo Games. Against this background, and the quickening spread of Covid-19, there seems to be dwindling belief within the All England Club that Wimbledon will escape postponement or even cancellation, as has been the case with practically every other major sport.

Sources say it is highly unlikely the Major would seek to fill the gap created by the postponement of the Games to next year.

The thinking is that it is safer - and more convenient - to stick with the existing arrangements.

But time is not on their side given the scale of the operation - it takes up to two months to get the site ready for Wimbledon.

There is also acknowledgement the sporting landscape remains too volatile - in the UK and globally - for an event as big as Wimbledon to commit to definitely going ahead.

The difficulties in moving Wimbledon deeper into the tennis schedule became obvious nearly two weeks ago when the French Tennis Federation decided unilaterally to move the French Open from May to September, sparking outrage.

It then became obvious a week ago when the ATP and the WTA Tours extended their suspension of all tournaments to June 7 that time was running out for the third Slam of the year.

If, as Mr Johnson says, it will take at least three months for the outbreak to start fading, the odds on Wimbledon going ahead in June are surely "slim to zero".

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'No advantage to Wimbledon as D-day looms'. Print Edition | Subscribe