Australian Open tournament director defends decisions to play despite backlash over unhealthy air quality

Pierre Lahalle

The fires in Australia have been a major cause for concern around the country, including for many participating in the Australian Open, who are worried the air quality is impacting their health on the court. Many athletes and fans have spoken out about the situation saying the air is not safe for matches, but despite the backlash organizers are defending their decisions.

Craig Tiley, the tournament director, ensured that they met with sports and medical experts as well as scientists from Australia's Environmental Protection Authority to make sure the environment was safe enough to compete. He said they would have stopped play if the air was deemed too unsafe. 

Not everyone agrees with the choices and some have needed treatment or were forced to walk away due to the air quality. 

Dalila Jakupovic had to withdraw from a qualifying match due to a coughing attack and Bernard Tomic sought medical attention after having a difficult time breathing. 

Canadian Brayden Schnur came out and said the air conditions are "not normal" and compared it to smoking a cigarette.

Liam Broady was another athlete not thrilled with the decisions being made. He said on Twitter, "The more I think about the conditions we played in ... the more it boils my blood. We can't let this slide. The email we received yesterday from the ATP and (Australian Open) was a slap in the face, conditions were 'playable'. Were they healthy?"

He commented that residents in Melbourne were asked to keep their pets inside, while they were asked to compete in those same conditions. 

Tiley remained strong in his defense of the actions the tournament is taking, even with such push back. "Our medical team were satisfied with the conditions that the players were competing in, per all of the research and the data and the science that they have," he said.

Players who are questioning the decision to carry on have been invited by Tiley to learn more. "Absolutely, we understand the anger, (but) a lot of it comes from the confusion and the complexity of understanding what goes on," he said. "We've invited the players ... to come in at any time to have a conversation."

Wanting to make sure the athletes feel safe, he informed them there is medical staff ready to assist. "If anyone at any time is feeling not well, we have a full medical team. We have a respiratory specialist on hand to deal with any of these issues," he said.

The Australian Open main draw is scheduled to start Monday, but the ATP player council is expected to meet before then. 

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