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Australian Open chiefs are ADAMANT play will go on despite ‘worst in the world’ air quality

Australian Open organisers insist the tournament will go on as planned despite air quality in Melbourne dropping to ‘the worst in the world’ overnight. 

Tuesday’s play saw former world No 1 Maria Sharapova end her match at the Kooyong Classic against Laura Siegmund during the second set, which both players struggling to breathe properly, while Eugenie Bouchard took a medical time-out during qualifying for the Australian Open as she fell ill in the smoky conditions.  

Bushfires have ravaged Australia in the build-up to the tournament, which is due to start on January 20, with 27 people dead and more than 2,000 homes destroyed.

Maria Sharapova saw her match on Tuesday abandoned due to health concerns over smoke inhalation having seen the former world No 1 become unwell in the smoky conditions

Maria Sharapova saw her match on Tuesday abandoned due to health concerns over smoke inhalation having seen the former world No 1 become unwell in the smoky conditions

Eugenie Bouchard was forced into taking a medical time-out during Australian Open qualifying

The Canadian complained of a headache before she sat down and was seen by a tournament medic

Eugenie Bouchard was forced into taking a medical time-out during Australian Open qualifying

Air quality is likely to be an ongoing issue at the Open with no end to the fires yet in sight

Air quality is likely to be an ongoing issue at the Open with no end to the fires yet in sight

IMPACT OF THE SMOKE ON OTHER EVENTS 

November 12: The Australian leg of the World Rally Championship is axed over concerns around smoke from nearby bushfires

December 19: A race meet at Tamworth was axed as organisers blame poor air quality from the New South Wales bushfires

December 22: Canberra’s smoke-filled air forces players off the ground in a Big Bash League match between Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers. The game is eventually abandoned.

January 3: Events in Canberra continue to be impacted by the poor air quality from the fires as the city’s air quality is ranked the worst in the world. Tennis Australia decides to move the Canberra International to Bendigo.

A W-League football match between Canberra and Newcastle is also postponed, while a game between the Canberra Capitals and the Perth Lynx at the indoor AIS Arena is also scrapped due to air quality concerns.

January 4: The Karkarook Parkrun, an annual event in Melbourne’s south-east, is cancelled due to air quality concerns. Meanwhile, the Bridport triathlon in Tasmania is abandoned after smoke from nearby fires  

Men’s world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who sits on the ATP Player Council, has already voiced his concerns for player safety and has suggested the tournament should be cancelled if smoke levels remain ‘hazardous’. 

‘If it comes down to those conditions affecting the health of players, I think we should definitely consider it,’ Djokovic said on January 6, with what happened on Tuesday across multiple events unlikely to ease pressures on organisers. 

Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who is preparing to appear in the main draw, condemned organisers on social media for putting players in a dangerous position. 

‘I keep reading that it’s dangerous to play, to read messages from players saying it’s outrageous to play,’ he said. 

‘I can’t judge I’m not there. but my question is this. Why are you going on the court?’

Elina Svitolina added: ‘Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action? #Melbourne.’

Reports in Australia say that an insurance policy would provide a nine-figure pay-out in the event of a tournament cancellation due to extreme weather conditions. 

World No 82 Dalila Jakupovic was forced to quit her qualifying match after she was left ‘scared’ and distressed during an on-court coughing fit led to her decision to retire from the match while up a set on her opponent.   

The decision to allow the match to take place saw organisers come under heavy criticism and things escalated thereafter with Sharapova and Bouchard high-profile players to see their health compromised.  

‘Over two hours play and I actually started to feel a cough coming on at the end of the second set,’ Sharapova said after her match was abandoned. 

‘But I thought maybe because I have been feeling sick for the last couple of weeks it was something to do with that. 

Sharapova's exhibition match in Kooyong was impacted by smoke from the nearby bushfires

Sharapova’s exhibition match in Kooyong was impacted by smoke from the nearby bushfires 

Sharapova (left), with Laura Siegemund (right), talking to officials before the game is called off

Sharapova (left), with Laura Siegemund (right), talking to officials before the game is called off

‘Then, when I heard Laura (Siegmund) speak to the umpire about it saying she was struggling as well, I was like ‘OK, thankfully I am not the only one’. 

‘The umpire came down and said to play one more game but we were out there for over two hours and I think for my health stand-point it was the right call from the officials.’

Bouchard, who was determined to see her qualifying match through as she beat You Xiadodi 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, found it ‘tough to breathe’ in the second set.  

‘I definitely started feeling unwell,’ Bouchard said. 

‘No cough, just heavy air, a bit tough to breathe and when you’re out of breath after a long, tough point I felt I couldn’t breathe well and that feeling made me a bit nauseous.’

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has insisted all the precuations to protect players are being taken and that smoke delays will be treated like rain or heat having delayed qualifiers by one hour on Tuesday morning. 

Dalila Jakupovic was in tears on the floor after being unable to continue at the Australian Open

Dalila Jakupovic was in tears on the floor after being unable to continue at the Australian Open 

The Slovenian is helped from the court by medical staff and later said she felt 'scared' on court

The Slovenian is helped from the court by medical staff and later said she felt ‘scared’ on court

Players were told not to practice outside due to the fog that has descended over Melbourne

FIVE AIR QUALITY CATEGORIES 

GOOD 

It’s a good day to be outside.

Moderate

The air quality is okay, but it could change soon.

It’s okay to be outside but watch for changes in air quality around you.

Poor

The air is probably dusty or smoky. Sensitive groups may experience symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.

If you are sensitive to air pollution, spend less time outside in the smoke or dust and follow your treatment plan. Reduce prolonged or heavy physical activity.

If you are coughing or short of breath, avoid being outside in the smoke or dust.

Close your windows and doors to keep smoke and dust out of your home.

Seek urgent medical help if anyone has trouble breathing or tightness in the chest.

Very poor

The air is probably very dusty or smoky. Everyone could be experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath. 

Avoid being outside in the smoke or dust. Reduce prolonged or heavy physical activity.

If you are sensitive to air pollution, follow your treatment plan. Avoid physical activity outdoors.

Close your windows and doors to keep smoke and dust out of your home.

If you think the air in your home is uncomfortable, consider going to an air-conditioned building like a library or shopping centre for a break if it’s safe to do so. 

Seek urgent medical help if anyone has trouble breathing or tightness in the chest. 

Hazardous

The air is probably extremely dusty or smoky. Everyone could be experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath. Stay indoors away from smoke and dust.

If you are sensitive to air pollution, follow your treatment plan. If you can, remain indoors and keep physical activity levels as low as possible.

Close your windows and doors to keep smoke and dust out of your home.

If you think the air in your home is uncomfortable, consider going to an air-conditioned building like a library or shopping centre for a break if it’s safe to do so. 

Seek urgent medical help if anyone has trouble breathing or tightness in the chest.  

Information courtesy of Environment Protection Authority Victoria 

‘Like when it is too hot or when raining, play will be suspended should the above measures deem that necessary,’ Tiley said. 

‘We are also consulting closely with the WTA and the ATP and the decision we made this morning, both tours supported those and recommended those,’ Tiley said. ‘This is a new experience for all of us, how we manage air quality, and therefore we have got to rely on those experts that advise us how best to continue.’

The Environment Protection Authority Victoria is being used along with a dedicated team on-site to establish the air quality and whether it is safe to put players out on court. 

The EPA use five categories ranging from good to hazardous to determine the air quality and Melbourne is currently in the hazardous level.  

Australian Open’s medical team and the Bureau of Meteorology are also conducting their own checks to determine the safety of play. 

Air quality is calculated by measuring the average concentration of a pollutant in the air over one hour.

That figure is then compared to the measurement guideline or standard for separate categories from one to 10. The Air Pollution Index currently has Central London at 30, falling into the ‘good’ category of air quality. 

Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina criticised organisers by suggesting 'something bad' must happen for action is taken to protect players at the start of the 2020 season

Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina criticised organisers by suggesting ‘something bad’ must happen for action is taken to protect players at the start of the 2020 season

Lucas Pouille was critical of a 'scandalous' decision to make players compete on Tuesday

Lucas Pouille was critical of a ‘scandalous’ decision to make players compete on Tuesday

Gilles Simon questioned the experts that were making the decision on the air quality

Gilles Simon questioned the experts that were making the decision on the air quality

Government advice to citizens in Melbourne and surrounding areas is to ‘minimise the time spent in smoky conditions whenever practical to do so,’ and it goes further to suggest they ‘avoid exercise’.

Tennis Australia was already forced to move a tournament in Canberra due to the damaging levels of smoke making the facility unusable for players and spectators. 

A Big Bash League match between Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers on December 22 was stopped and eventually abandoned due to smoke levels.

Formula One organisers are said to be closely monitoring the air quality in the coming days as fears grow over the the season opening race in Melbourne on March 15. 

Non-sporting events including Day on the Green music festival in Victoria’s north-east has been forced into cancellation at the last minute due to the hazardous air quality and pressure is building on the Australian Open to delay the start of the tournament.   

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