The Australian Open tennis tournament will “most likely” be delayed by a week, according to Victoria’s Sport and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula.
Victoria’s Government is in talks with players’ representatives about how to mount the tournament
Players will be asked to keep their entourages to a minimum
World number 4 Daniil Medvedev says players may not come if they’re forced to quarantine
The Victorian Government has been in discussions with Tennis Australia and representatives from the ATP and WTA about how to hold the event, scheduled to start on January 18, under current coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Pakula said the details were yet to be finalised, but he believed there would be a short rather than a long delay to the start of the tournament.
“I think that’s most likely, but it’s not the only option,” he said.
Mr Pakula also revealed that tennis players had been encouraged to keep their entourages small, but there were no set rules at this stage for the number of support people each player would be allowed to bring.
“It’s fair to say that Tennis Australia and the playing group have been encouraged to keep the total number of people coming in, not necessarily to a minimum, but to a lower number than would otherwise be the case.
“People need to bear in mind that there will be an extremely rigorous testing regime that will apply to the tennis players both before they leave the port that they’re coming from and when they arrive, and I would imagine consistently during the time that they’re in their bubble.”
Fears the tournament ‘could be dangerous’ for players if they can’t prepare
Details of the quarantine arrangements for payers are still to be revealed, but world number 4 Daniil Medvedev has already expressed reservations.
He told CNN some players may choose not to come to Australia if they were forced to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine, with limited time to play and practise before the tournament starts.
“I’m not complaining that it’s boring or something like this, it’s just that going out from the room after 14 days of not doing anything and then playing five sets right away, I think would be really dangerous for the health of any sportsman,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be possible for anybody to go there if they will need to stay in the room for 14 days.”
Having endured the greatest peacetime disruption to sport in the modern history of ball games, surely pushing the Australian Open back a couple of weeks would barely cause a blip on the radar of crisis-conditioned fans.
Simply conducting the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park in February — within a drop shot of its original January 18-31 timeslot — seems something of a triumph, given Victoria was almost disqualified altogether from major sport due to its quarantine bungle false start.
Then there is the context provided by sport’s new abnormal — a Masters championship in November, AFL and NRL grand finals in late October, NBA and WNBA seasons contested inside bubbles, cricket Test matches played without crowds and Wimbledon not played at all.
Yes, starting the Australian Open a couple of weeks later than usual so the players could fulfil (now hopefully improved) quarantine requirements would not be ideal for either tennis devotees or the legion of once-a-year couch experts.
January is the perfect time for both live attendees and late-night TV viewers, even if the intemperate climate sometimes means a dogged baseliner is medium to well done by the conclusion of a five-set epic.
But near the end of a year in which Melbourne lost almost every AFL game — including the grand final — to the ongoing and personally debilitating battle to contain COVID-19, surely watching the tennis on a school night would be a trifling inconvenience.
Certainly a February Australian Open would not provide quite the same bulging bottom line on the sometimes rubbery economic benefit statements used to justify public spending on major events.
But, for all its newfound freedoms, Victoria will still be in a stage of cautious reopening in January and — as the current debate reveals — it will be a triumph to get a few hundred players to Melbourne Park, let alone thousands of travelling fans.
The toe-curling obsequiousness toward the players began when Tennis Australia needed the powerful player lobby to support the Australian Open’s ongoing Grand Slam status — thus the press-conference birthday cakes and other acts of gratuitous pandering.
In that regard, think of the willingness of a top-100 tennis player to attend an Australian Open where they might have to quarantine as something of a test.
Has the slavish devotion of Tennis Australia to their every whim and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by successive Victorian state governments on Melbourne Park created a store of goodwill to be returned by those players deigning to endure some inconvenience while collecting their guaranteed five-figure first-round-losers cheques?
If not, surely this would say more about the entitled mindset of the players at a time of international crisis than the intransigence of the Victorian Government.
Cricket may benefit from postponed Open
Perhaps the greatest benefactor of a delayed Australian Open would be Cricket Australia. There are 11 games scheduled in Melbourne from mid-January, which could now avoid the usual ferocious competition from a late-night Nick Kyrgios epic or Serena Williams cliff hanger.
This would be in turn a victory for Cricket Australia’s media partners, Seven and Fox Sports, and perhaps a chastening moment for the Seven officials who attempted to cut ties with the cricket — or gain a massive discount on contracted payments — as the sport battled with unavoidable scheduling complications.
As it turns out, it might be the former home of cricket, the Nine Network, that is suddenly seeking a discount from its new partners at Tennis Australia.
As anyone who has heard Jim Courier express his awkward enthusiasm about a looming season of a reality cooking show knows, the Australian Open provides relentless and presumably valuable cross promotion of the broadcaster’s new-season programming.
This at least partly explains why broadcasters are willing to pay above-market rates for “loss-leading” sports programming, and why dedicated tennis fans have the earworm jingle from a “new smash-hit comedy” in their heads for months after a fortnight of relentless bombardment.
Would the Australian Open be as valuable to Nine in February when its regular programming would usually have commenced, and when the tennis might prove something of a handicap in the race for ratings line honours?
These are the questions the media rights partners and Tennis Australia will be posing in their frantic negotiations with the Victorian Government to get the Australian Open started as close to its original date as possible.
And factors that, I would suggest, won’t get a great deal of sympathy from Victorians who have just taken a stroll without strapping on a mask for the first time in months.
On Monday, Tennis Australia announced all lead-up events to the Australian Open would be played in Melbourne, instead of across most of the country’s capital cities.
Djokovic — who won the Australian Open in 2020 — said he would do whatever was required to play at the Australian Open, but hoped the Victorian Government would also be accommodating.
“I hope that there is going to be support and understanding from the Victorian and Australian Government for the players and for Tennis Australia and that they will allow players to compete in the second week of quarantine,” he told reporters at the ATP Finals on Wednesday.
“You will be able to have at least a tournament or two prior to the Australian Open, which for majority of the players is important.
“Having no official match before the Australian Open, before a grand slam, is a huge thing.”
“Many of the matters that the authority may wish to be satisfied about are going to be matters that require a ‘working test’,” Mr Young said during his final submissions.
“Some of them are best addressed in the context of the way in which the casino operates, by way of close oversight [and] review of those operations.”
Mr Young said that could include ILGA stationing inspectors on its gaming floors or Crown issuing daily reports to the regulator, which would be followed by in-depth audits and reviews.
ILGA chairman Philip Crawford said on Wednesday the authority would not allow Crown to open the casino until the Bergin inquiry delivers its report, which is due by February.
Under the inquiry’s terms of reference, if Commissioner Bergin finds Crown an unsuitable licence holder she must also report on what – if anything – Crown can do to become suitable.
Mr Young rejected submissions from counsel assisting that Crown should address the “deleterious” influence of its major shareholder James Packer over corporate governance by restricting his board representation and voting power.
Crown’s relationship with Mr Packer, who owns 36 per cent of the company, and his private company Consolidated Press Holdings was now “stock-standard”, Mr Young said, after they tore up agreements allowing the sharing of confidential information and the provision of services to Crown by CPH executives.
Meanwhile on Thursday it was revealed that Crown’s outgoing Australian Resorts chief executive Barry Felstead hired his own legal team to argue against a finding that he failed “without justifiable reason” to alert Crown’s board about China’s crackdown on foreign casinos before 19 employees were arrested there in 2016.
Mr Felstead’s lawyer Joanne Shepard said her client – who is being made redundant after a disastrous appearance at the inquiry earlier this year, and who Mr Packer’s legal team partly blamed for the arrests – was not trying to avoid responsibility for his mistakes, but said they were made in “good faith”.
“The matters now put against Mr Felstead were in fact escalated to board members either by Mr Felstead or by others,” she said.
That included Mr Felstead telling Crown director and CPH executive Michael Johnston about the government crackdown and that police detained and questioned a Crown employee in mid-2015.
Mr Felstead is the second Crown insider, following former director Ben Brazil, to hire their own legal teams in an effort to avoid the inquiry making adverse findings against them.
The year-long inquiry, which was sparked by a series of reports by this masthead last, will conclude its public hearings on Friday with final submissions from counsel assisting.
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Business reporter at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
“The strategy never had a chance to succeed,” she said. “How could it when the person they were trying to negotiate with was a … delusional offender fixated on taunting police?”
Gargasoulas, who is serving life in prison with a non-parole period of 46 years, killed six and injured dozens more when he sped through the heart of Melbourne’s CBD in a stolen maroon Holden Commodore on January 20, 2017.
Those who died were three-month-old Zachary Bryant, Matthew Si, 33, Thalia Hakin, 10, Jess Mudie, 23, Bhavita Patel, 33 and Yosuke Kanno, 25.
Melinda Tan, widow of Matthew Si, said she felt no one had ever accepted any responsibility for their part in events on that day or the lead up to it but hoped Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton would listen to the victims’ voices so that their loved ones had not been “sacrificed in vain”.
“We place our trust in Victoria Police to protect our lives and take decisive action in the face of danger,” Ms Tan said.
Ms Hawkins found poor planning, a lack of assertive leadership and command control, a lack of adequate resources, inadequate communication on police radios, inflexible policies and misguided attempts to negotiate with Gargasoulas created a “perfect storm” that allowed him to evade arrest for more than 12 hours.
However, she was unable to conclude that the catastrophic attack, which “struck at the very heart of Melbourne”, could have been averted.
“It is agonising that, despite the escalating events of the previous days and the scores of police members actively engaged in attempting to stop him, such a violent, drug-fuelled, psychotic and delusional criminal was able to slip through the cracks and evade interception by police over several hours,” she said.
Ms Hawkins also found “objective and strategic” thinking by officers was absent on the day of the attack and there was a lack of assertive leadership from senior detectives in the hours leading up the massacre.
Singling out two officers, she said Detective Senior Sergeant Darren Humphries and Detective Acting Senior Sergeant David Newman failed to provide effective leadership over investigator Detective Senior Constable Murray Gentner who was following and attempting to negotiate with Gargasoulas via a mobile phone as part of his arrest plan.
“While I am unable to say whether the offender would have been located and arrested had a planned strategy been in place, the failure to develop such a plan and the lack of a co-ordinated response meant that this opportunity was lost,” Ms Hawkins said.
The inquest also “starkly exposed” the difficulties in stopping a vehicle-borne attack, she said, and once Gargasoulas reached Swanston Street and then turned into Bourke Street “there was nothing further the operational police could have done” to safely stop his vehicle.
Police began searching for Gargasoulas at 2.20am on January 20, 2017, about an hour after he stabbed his brother, Angelo, multiple times in the face, neck and chest outside a housing commission flat in Windsor.
The wanted man had been on a two-month crime spree after returning from South Australia and eluded police – who at times were following him from the road and sky – for 11 hours that day before he careered down Bourke Street at 1.30pm. He was shot and arrested at the scene.
In her findings, Ms Hawkins was highly critical of officers who failed to call their chase a “pursuit”, saying it highlighted the challenges of police “losing perspective in the heat of the moment”.
Had a pursuit been called, as Gargasoulas crossed into different police divisions, there was no doubt a “pursuit controller” would have been deployed, she added.
“This meant that no one had responsibility.”
During the inquest it was revealed bail justice Christos Pantelios had released Gargasoulas on bail six days before the massacre and as part of her findings, Ms Hawkins delivered a withering assessment of his testimony.
“His evidence suggested that his memory of the identity and detail of other documentary material before him during the bail hearings was practically non-existent.”
Ms Hawkins nine recommendations include further training for police in hostile vehicle attacks; a review of Victoria Police’s training, policies and procedures on bail and remand with respect to high-risk, recidivist offenders; a review of co-ordination policies between different police units; and a review of critical incident communication procedures, particularly where the use of a dedicated radio channel is appropriate.
The coroner also recommended police investigate the feasibility of officers using body-worn cameras to record all out-of-session bail and remand hearings.
In a statement, the families of those killed urged Victoria Police to adopt all nine recommendations.
But some feared a disconnect between serving members of the force and senior command remained.
“It is imperative that Victoria Police see this inquest as a catalyst for real, meaningful cultural change within the force, lest this investigation be added to the list of opportunities missed,” they said.
In response to the findings, Mr Patton admitted “operational shortcomings” in Victoria Police had occurred in the hunt for Gargasoulas but backed the actions of his officers who he believes all acted in good faith.
He said changes had now been made to how police manage high-risk offender arrests with investigators no longer left “holding the ball”. Instead, he said, more senior officers – potentially as senior as assistant commissioner – would be called in to oversee an arrest plan.
Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said the findings provided an account of the difficulties and complexities that confront police.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.
Earlier this week, Moderna also gave encouraging early data about a vaccine it’s separately developing. The improved prospects for a vaccine have some investors focusing on next year, when a vaccine or two could have the global economy operating closer to normal again.
That has investors embracing stocks that were beaten down by the weakened, closed economy of the pandemic. United Airlines gained 4.2 per cent for one of the stronger gains in the S&P 500, and American Airlines climbed 3.4 per cent.
“That story seems to be moderating a little bit here as the coronavirus news has now mostly been digested by the marketplace,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager with Globalt Investments. “The vaccine news immediately captures the imagination because you see an endpoint.”
Financial stocks, which stand to gain from a healing economy as workers get jobs and make good on their loans, were climbing 0.8 per cent for the biggest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500.
Optimism about the economy’s prospects also has investors less enthusiastic about piling into the companies that dominated the stay-at-home economy of the pandemic, such as Big Tech. Apple rose 0.2 per cent and Amazon ticked down by 0.2 per cent.
Because these companies are so massive in size, their stock movements have an outsized effect on the S&P 500 and other indexes. Even though it was down just 0.2 per cent, Microsoft was among the heaviest weights in the S&P 500 out of all the stocks within the index.
Of course, many risks still remain for the market. Chief among them is the pandemic, which is accelerating so quickly that governments across the United States and Europe are bringing back varying degrees of restrictions on businesses. Coronavirus counts and hospitalisations are up in states across the country, and health experts are warning about the possibility of a brutal winter.
Even with the encouraging figures from pharmaceutical companies about their potential vaccines, there’s also still no guarantee one will be approved or how long it will take for it to be widely distributed.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday warned of the potential economic damage in the next few months because of the pandemic. Additional lockdown orders would keep customers away from businesses. But even if the strictest stay-at-home orders don’t return, fear alone of the virus could keep consumers hunkered at home.
Powell and other economists have said another big financial-support program from Congress could help tide the economy over. But bitter partisanship in Washington has prevented any deal to renew extra unemployment benefits for laid-off workers and other stimulus efforts that expired earlier this year.
In Europe, a coronavirus relief package is being held up by a diplomatic dispute between Hungary and Poland and several other major EU countries.
In European stock markets, France’s CAC 40 rose 0.5 per cent, and Germany’s DAX returned 0.5 per cent. The FTSE 100 in London added 0.3 per cent.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury ticked up to 0.88 per cent from 0.85 per cent late Tuesday. A report showed that home builders broke ground on more new houses last month than economists expected.
A concise wrap of the day on the markets, breaking business news and expert opinion delivered to your inbox each afternoon. Sign up for the Herald‘s here and The Age‘s here.
The AFL will strongly consider mandating at least three players from each team be stationed inside both 50-metre arcs at all stoppages in a bid to combat defensive structures.
The AFL has reduced interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90
Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line
The AFL said the rule tweaks were designed to provide “an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct”
The rule will be trialled in the new VFL and East Coast second-tier competition next year, with an eye towards introducing it at the elite level for 2022.
The innovation comes as the AFL on Wednesday announced three rule tweaks for the 2021 season designed to facilitate more attacking play and lead to higher scoring.
As expected, there will be a further reduction in interchange rotations to a maximum of 75 per team, down from 90 last season.
Players standing the mark will only be allowed “minimal” lateral movement, and the location of the mark at kick-ins will be set at 15 metres from the centre of the kick-off line.
It was previously set at 10 metres.
“The evolution of the game has seen an increase in defensive structures and these changes combined are designed to provide a better balance between attack and defence while encouraging more open ball movement,” AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking said in a statement.
“We have some of the most skilful athletes in the world, and the three changes are designed to reduce the defensive capability of teams and open up the game, providing an opportunity for players to have more freedom to play on instinct and show off their natural flair.
Hocking said the AFL had not considered reducing the number of players on the field to create more space.
He said the rule being tested in the VFL and East Coast competition would have that effect by spreading players out across the ground.
It is also expected that fewer interchange rotations will lead to more player fatigue and result in fewer players being able to get to stoppages, thus limiting congestion.
The cap on rotations could come down even further in future seasons but was only reduced by 15 for next year so as not to put players under too much stress.
“We felt that was that right level and it’s incremental change, so we’ll remain open as to what the future looks like beyond 2021,” Hocking said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he is confident the 2021 Australian Open will proceed but it remains to be seen how many international stars will compete as confusion reigns over quarantine requirements.
Tennis Australia wants players to begin arriving in Melbourne in mid-December to enter a two-week isolation period
Mr Andrews said the Victorian Government was working “very, very closely” with Tennis Australia
The ATP issued a memo to its players saying there was uncertainty surrounding when players could arrive in Melbourne
Tennis Australia (TA) has been sweating for months on the Victorian and Australian governments allowing players to quarantine in a special training hub with their restricted entourages in Melbourne from mid-December.
That would allow the traditional lead-up events, including the multi-city ATP Cup, to be shifted from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide to Melbourne while some state borders remain closed.
But on Monday, Mr Andrews said TA’s plan was “not a done deal” ahead of the Australian Open, which is scheduled to be staged from January 18 to 31 at Melbourne Park.
He backed up his comments on Wednesday, saying negotiations and planning were “incredibly complex”.
“It has to be done safely, it has to be done properly,” Mr Andrews told a media conference.
“We are working very, very closely with Tennis Australia. They are working [with] all of their partners and we’re confident that we’ll finish up with an Australian Open. It’s a very important event.
“It’s a massive task. There is more work that has to be done and we’re deeply engaged with Tennis Australia and others to get that outcome.”
Mr Andrews’s comments on Monday prompted the ATP — the governing body of men’s tennis — to issue a memo to its players overnight.
The memo, which was shared on Twitter by Slovakian professional Lukas Lacko, highlighted the ATP’s concern about when players would be able to arrive in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.
“In discussions with Tennis Australia over the past 24 hours, we have been informed there are some new challenges around the previously planned arrival dates for players and team members,” the ATP said.
“We continue to work with Tennis Australia on confirming plans for January, and we will provide an update as soon as more information is available in the coming days.
“We understand there is uncertainty about the start of the 2021 season, and we are working as hard as possible to deliver the best possible calendar of events to players.”
“I think this [outbreak] should be seen as an aberration, but aberrations are inevitable,” he told the ABC on Monday.
“That’s why you need a second line of defence which is really fast testing, contact tracing and outbreak management and South Australia’s well prepared for this, they’ve done desktop simulations in the last few months, but this is a real world test for them.”
South Australia is adopting the “third ring” strategy of isolating cases, close contacts and contacts of close contacts that has been used to tame recent outbreaks in Victoria recently, Dr Finkel said.
Appearing at the inquiry today are Australian Medical Association Victorian President Julian Rait, Deakin University Chair of Epidemiology Catherine Bennett, Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel and privacy and data collection deputy commissioner Rachel Dixon.
Victoria’s contact tracing system came under fire during and after the state’s second wave, particularly from the federal government.
Over the course of the pandemic, the state moved away from its centralised contact tracing system to establish suburban and regional hubs, replacing its pen-and-paper systems with computers and contacting close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases within 36 hours of initial testing.
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Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tennis Australia is planning to host its entire summer calendar of events in Victoria in 2021, although Premier Daniel Andrews says the plan “is not a done deal”.
Events in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Perth and Adelaide will be relocated to Melbourne in 2021
Players will enter a two-week isolation bubble when they arrive in Melbourne
Tournaments could also be held in regional Victorian centres such as Bendigo and Traralgon
Under Tennis Australia’s plan, events usually held in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Canberra would be held in Melbourne, or at one of the major regional tennis centres in Bendigo or Traralgon.
Tennis Australia says it is yet to finalise quarantine arrangements, but it is expected players will begin to arrive in Melbourne in mid-December to enter a two-week isolation period before events begin.
Players would be confined to their hotels and tennis facilities until they have completed their quarantine period.
The Australian Open has been under a cloud since coronavirus forced the cancellation of major sporting events in Australia and across the world.
The second wave of COVID-19 that hit Melbourne also put the event in doubt, but Tennis Australia confirmed in September that the event would go ahead with a reduced number of fans in attendance.
Mr Andrews said the Australian Open would go ahead, but stressed that the plan outlined by Tennis Australia was “not settled by a long way”.
“This needs to be done on the best of public health advice, it’s a massive event, it’s an event that all of us love,” he said.
“But it comes at a time when the rest of the world is on fire.”
“It’s an important event, absolutely, but avoiding a third wave is arguably even more important.”
A blow to tennis events interstate
The news has come as a surprise to some tournament organisers, with the director of the Hobart International, Darren Sturgess, saying he was only officially informed of the change last night.
However, he conceded that relocating all events to Melbourne was the right thing to do.
“Unfortunately it became a factor where we needed to advise players and they needed to travel from overseas as well,” he said.
“It’s four weeks before they need to jump on a plane, so it got to a point where there were some inconsistencies where [the Hobart International] wasn’t able to happen this year.”
Australian great John Fitzgerald is hopeful the calendar will return to normal in 2022, given the money spent establishing new tournaments, including the WTA event in Adelaide which was won by Ash Barty this year.
“Let’s hope it’s only for this year,” he said.
“The Adelaide event last year was really something special.”