It was supposed to boost Australia’s economy and provide much-needed entertainment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the Australian Open has sparked a fiery showdown between the Victorian government and international tennis stars furious about undergoing hard quarantine after five passengers on their flights tested positive for COVID-19.
There’s fighting amongst players, too. Many have taken to social media to share with fans their fitness strategies for coping in hard lockdown while a handful of others used the opportunity to complain.
Late Monday night, Australian Nick Kyrgios labelled men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic “a tool” after the Serbian sent a list of demands to authorities including that players be moved to houses with a tennis court.
Kyrgios also hit out at Bernard Tomic’s girlfriend for “ridiculous scenes” in hotel quarantine, writing on Twitter “I don’t mind Bernie but his Mrs obviously has no perspective”.
That came after Tomic’s girlfriend, Vanessa Sierra, used her YouTube channel to share videos of the couple’s meals – including sushi, and avocado with poached eggs – while complaining about cold food.
Ms Sierra also described what she viewed as “the worst part of quarantine”.
“I don’t wash my own hair. I’ve never washed my own hair. It’s just not something that I do. I normally have hairdressers that do it twice a week for me,” she said.
“This is the situation that we’re dealing with. I can’t wait to get out of quarantine just so I can get my hair done.”
Gripes from stars and members of their entourage have also been met with little sympathy from Australians stranded overseas who are angry that foreign tennis players were given special travel exemptions while they’re still fighting to get home.
The attention is on Australia, but not in the way event organisers had hoped.
So, was the decision to host the Australian Open worth it?
“I don’t know if it was worth the risk,” said Dr Mark Stewart, a sports economist and research fellow at RMIT.
“There’s no question that when you spend government money to bring an event here, it will cause economic benefits – people will buy tickets, come here to watch it and all of those things … but this year is different. Revenue will be significantly reduced.”
Over the past decade, the Australian Open has contributed more than $2.71 billion in economic benefits, according to Tennis Australia.
And last year alone, international and interstate visitors made bookings for 574,970 hotel bed nights and spent an average of $209 in the Melbourne economy every day per visitor.
But 2021 is not an ordinary year.
Unlike previous Australian Open matches that are usually packed with spectators, this time there will be plenty of empty seats.
Strict travel bans means there will be no international tourists, which will significantly reduce hotels, restaurants and retail spending.
And as part of its COVID safety measures, Tennis Australia has taken the extra step of introducing a 25 per cent cap on spectator numbers.
Despite these setbacks, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the expected boost in jobs and economic benefits would justify the decision to host the event.
“If the Australian Open does not happen in Melbourne, it will happen somewhere else,” Mr Andrews said last Thursday.
“It will happen in Japan, it will happen in China, it will happen in Singapore. The real risk then is it doesn’t come back.
“Just focus on the future of this event … there are so many cities around the world that would do anything to have one of those grand slam events anchored in their city … you don’t invite that.”
But in the eyes of UNSW economist Tim Harcourt, Mr Andrews’ claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Professor Harcourt told The New Daily he expected Victoria’s economy would bring in 30 to 40 per cent less money from the 2021 Australian Open than from previous years, noting that 13 per cent of visitors to the tournament in a non-pandemic year come from overseas and 26 per cent come from interstate.
“It’s not a normal year, so you wouldn’t have the maximum economic benefits anyway,” Mr Harcourt said.
“Events like the Australian Open rely on people coming to Melbourne then heading off on the Great Ocean Road and seeing the fairy penguins at Phillip Island. They rely on those kick-on effects of the economy, so you’re not going to get that, either.”
Mr Harcourt said the broadcast rights, sponsorships and all the entertainment around the Australian Open would bring in some revenue, but not necessarily enough to account for the risk of hosting the event during a pandemic.
“The Australian Open is such an institution in Melbourne, I don’t believe Melbourne would’ve lost it. It just would’ve been postponed,” he said.
“I can understand why people want to have an event, but given what’s happened with Djokovic earlier last year when he organised his own tennis tournament and everyone got COVID, I would’ve thought alarm bells would’ve been ringing.”
Djokovic, who tested positive for COVID-19 after hosting the Adria Tour exhibition events in June, faced criticism on Monday after demanding quarantined Australian Open players be given special exemptions to train.
The elite tennis player sent a list of proposals to Open chief Craig Tiley, requesting a reduced isolation period and players to be allowed to quarantine in private Melbourne houses with tennis courts.
But Mr Andrews had zero sympathy.
“Well, people are free to provide lists of demands. But the answer is no. And that was very clearly put,” he told reporters on Monday.
“There’s no special treatment here.
While the event is very important, nothing is more important than making sure we follow public health advice.’’
– Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews