Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has savaged the rationale behind holding the Australian Open as “rubbish”.
The criticism comes amid mounting concern over the feasibility of hosting the event against the risk to a state that has endured one of the toughest coronavirus lockdowns on the planet.
In attempting to justify the decision, Premier Daniel Andrews pointed to the considerable number of jobs and economic benefits the event would provide to a state that has done it tough.
“If the Australian Open does not happen in Melbourne, it will happen somewhere else,” Mr Andrews said on Thursday as he explained the state’s decision to press on with the event.
“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.”
That failed to persuade Mr Kennett, who accused the state leader of double standards.
“Premier says best practices. Rubbish. Victorians who are clean are being locked out of the State,” Kennett tweeted.
“Businesses have failed. We are told because health considerations must be given priority What hypocrisy! Lose the Open! How dishonest!
“Every small business person should be outraged.
“Every major sport has been disrupted. Even the Olympics deferred. Our Grand Prix deferred. Why not defer the Tennis Open?
‘And to make things worse we have prioritised a player coming to Vic who has tested positive!”
Mr Kennett was referring to American player Tennys Sandgren, who was allowed onto one of the charter flights to Melbourne despite testing positive to COVID-19 earlier this week.
Sandgren returned a positive result on Monday, after originally testing positive in late November. He was initially barred from the flight containing international players out of Los Angeles.
But Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said Sandgren was fine to travel to Australia because his body was “shedding” the virus.
“Tennys Stangren’s positive result was reviewed by health experts and determined to be viral shedding from a previous infection, so was given the all clear to fly,” she tweeted.
“No one who is COVID positive for the first time – or could still be infectious – will be allowed in for the Aus Open.”
Tennis Australia said Sandgren, like all of the 1200-strong international contingent, would be tested every day at their three hotels during the 14-day quarantine period.
Meanwhile, five-time finalist Andy Murray won’t be given preferential treatment if he tries to play in the Australian Open after testing positive to COVID-19.
The former world No.1 was unable to join the 1200-strong cohort of international players and officials on charter flights to Australia after being one of four international players to test positive.
American world No.16 Madison Keys and Spanish world No.53 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina also returned positive tests.
Murray, a dual Wimbledon champion, is said to be in good health and still hopeful of being able to contest the year’s first grand slam that begins on February 8.
Granted a wildcard after undergoing hip surgery that stalled his career, the tournament drawcard is reportedly working with Australian Open boss Craig Tiley to find a way to play.
However, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the Scotsman must not expect any special favours.
“In regards to Mr Murray, we’ve been clear from the start that anyone who tests positive is not able to be part of the program coming into Melbourne and Australia,” Mr Foley said on Friday.
“Mr Murray, and the other 1240 people as part of the program, need to demonstrate that if they’re coming to Melbourne they have returned a negative test.
“Should Mr Murray arrive, and I have no indication that he will, he will be subject to those same rigorous arrangements as everyone else.
“Should he test positive prior to his attempts to come to Australia, he will be refused.”
Keys, a former semi-finalist at Melbourne Park, is also self-isolating after posting her result on social media.
“I unfortunately tested positive for [COVID-19] before I was supposed to fly to Australia,” Keys wrote.
“I’m very disappointed to not be able to play in the coming weeks after training hard in the off-season and knowing Tennis Australia and the tours did so much to make these events happen.”
The first players arrived in Melbourne on Thursday night. Mega-stars including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem were on a separate charter that flew direct to Adelaide.