In the normal world, tennis fans would’ve been preparing for the start of the 2020 French Open this week.
“I have never experienced something like this. I was really scared I would collapse because I couldn’t walk anymore.”
At first glance, you might associate this quote with a soldier on the front line. But a tennis player? Surely not.
Yet, this is what world number 180, Dalila Jakupovic, said after she retired from her crucial Australian Open qualifying match.
The Slovenian said she felt “really scared” because of the “unhealthy” air produced by the ongoing bushfires in Australia.
The 28-year-old was 6-4, 5-6 up against Stefanie Voegel but had to be helped off the court after suffering a coughing fit.
She said every player she spoke to afterwards also had ‘headaches and problems breathing’.
While this was going on, City of Melbourne tweeted the air quality in the city was ‘hazardous’ on that day due to the bushfires.
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority advised people in Melbourne to “stay indoors, keep windows and doors shut, and keep pets inside”.
Earlier this month, Victoria’s chief health officer said Melbourne’s air quality was the “worst in the world”.
It was widely reported that the smoke from the bush fires has spread to New Zealand and even as far as Chile and Argentina. NASA said the smoke would go around the globe.
This smoke carries tiny particulates, known as PM 2.5, which is linked to strokes, heart disease, and cancer.
A new study conducted by Stanford University researchers found exposure to high levels of PM2.5 impairs children’s immune systems. At least 29 people have died from the Australian bushfires.
Surely the health of the athletes needs to be taken more seriously?
Could the tournament be moved to somewhere where the health of these players is not jeopardised?
As 13th-seed Denis Shapovalov said: “I don’t want to risk my life, risk my health, being out there playing in these conditions when I can for the next ten, 15 years.”
And yet, here we are. The Australian Open is in full swing.
The policy set by the grand slam’s organisers states play may be suspended when there are between 97 and 200 PM2.5 units present – known as Air Quality Rating 4.
If 200 units are surpassed, Air Quality Rating 5, play is automatically suspended.
Despite there being between 117-165 units present for five hours on January 14, play was not suspended.
Brit Liam Broady said playing in these conditions “made [his] blood boil”.
He added it was a “slap in the face” when the ATP and Australian Open said conditions were playable.
The likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seem fine with that but Novak Djokovic took a slightly different approach.
He said he was a “little bit concerned” and was sad to see players and ball kids collapsing on court.
I repeat, 29 people have died from this tragedy.
Can the event not be moved, delayed or played indoors?
Yes, it would take a lot of organising and money to do that but health is the most important thing.
The public is told to stay indoors for their health but athletes have to duke it out in the middle of the Australian summer.
The heat alone is hard enough, but having to play in conditions like this is unacceptable. There should be no bifurcation of thought here.
If the health of the players and staff was the number one priority, they would not be playing. Simple as that.