PARIS (AFP) - A maximum of only 1,000 spectators will be allowed each day at Roland Garros after the French government insisted on Thursday (Sept 24) on tougher restrictions to counter the resurgence of the coronavirus.
Tournament chief Guy Forget said the order to limit attendance was a “tough blow” for the season's final Grand Slam event. That figure had already been reduced from 20,000 and then 11,500.
The organisers of the French Open, which gets under way four months later than planned in Paris on Sunday, had hoped for a maximum of 5,000.
Instead, the French government on Thursday insisted on tougher restrictions to counter the resurgence of the coronavirus.
“We’ve taken note of the government’s decision. We’re ready, all the players are here, but it’s true it’s a tough blow for the tournament,” Forget told France Info.
The decision by the French government will be a huge blow to Roland Garros which last year attracted on average around 37,000 fans a day.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, speaking on France 2 TV, insisted that the Grand Slam tournament must be subject to the same restrictions imposed on Thursday on sports events taking place in designated "red zones" where the coronavirus is showing signs of resurgence.
"We will apply the same rules at Roland Garros as elsewhere," he said. "We go from 5,000 to 1,000."
Sources told AFP, however, that the figure does not include credential holders such as officials, media, players and staff.
Earlier on Thursday, Forget had hoped to protect the 5,000 limit. "We still hope to have 5,000 spectators," he said.
He believed that the nature of the Roland Garros complex would work in the tournament's favour.
"We are able to accommodate 5,000, as small as it is, on a 12-hectare area," he added. "Even if we must remain extremely careful, we have all the guarantees so that this tournament takes place in maximum security conditions.
"We are responsible, but all this must be done with the approval of the government."
He added: "We stage the tournament on the equivalent of 15 football fields, outdoors. Everyone wears a mask, even the ball boys and girls and chair umpires."
The limit of 1,000 fans a day represents less than 3 per cent of last year's total attendance of almost 520,000. There will also be financial repercussions.
In 2019, Roland Garros accounted for around 80 per cent of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) budget - €255.4 million (S$409.8 million) out of a total €325 million.
Ticket sales generate nearly 20 per cent of tournament revenue.
When the planned limit was 11,500 spectators, Forget estimated that "the tournament's proceeds (would) be halved", which corresponded to between €130 million and €140 million.
The reduction to just 1,000 spectators will further increase the shortfall. Organisers will also have to take new steps to placate angry ticket holders.
The US Open in New York, which ended just under two weeks ago, banned all spectators from its sprawling Flushing Meadows complex.
Wimbledon, meanwhile, was cancelled for the first time since the World War II.