Wimbledon 2021: Zoom Spring Conference talks hotel bubbles, fan numbers, and plans for ‘Middle Sunday’
As many questions as answers for return of Championships: 'We have had to learn to work with uncertainty'
It was a very upbeat presentation about the return of the Wimbledon Championships this year, following its cancellation, exactly a year ago, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet amid the optimism and excitement for the full tournament programme ahead, as well as gratitude that last year’s abandonment was covered by insurance cover totalling £180 million, there remain many uncertainties about how many fans will be allowed to attend, and how players used to the freedom of rented houses down the road from the grounds will cope with compulsory hotel confinement and a vastly reduced entourage.
As Chief Executive Sally Bolton said in her opening address: “Our priority has and will always be to do this safely, with the support and trust of all our stakeholders.”
The spectator capacity is currently expected to be down to 25 percent, based on the current Sports Grounds Safety Authority guidance, but firm numbers will not be finalised until the government’s Event Research Programme determines any relaxing of rules after 21 June.
So what are the current plans for this year’s event?
· All the usual competitions will run, and with the usual draw sizes: Only the Invitational events will be dropped.
· All players will be accommodated in a London hotel, and allowed one additional room for their support team. They will be strictly bubbled within the hotel, supervised transport and on the Wimbledon grounds. Bolton affirmed that the ‘Minimised Risk Environment’ was an “absolute requirement” of the government to allow players to come to the UK without quarantine, and that it was as much about protection of the UK population as the players.
· The tournament currently expects there to be a form of social distancing throughout the grounds, but will remain flexible should this change.
· There will be robust testing and track-and-trace programmes in place for those within the Minimised Risk Environments.
· The tournament awaits the government’s review into COVID-status certification before making any decisions on any requirement for vaccines or negative tests for spectators to attend The Championships.
· Tickets for the public will be sold exclusively online and all tickets distributed via the official Wimbledon mobile app. The Grounds will be a cashless site.
· Prize money levels will be announced in June.
· All courts will continue to use lines people, though electronic player challenges will be available on all courts up to No11, along with a shot/serve clock.
· The pre-match warm-up will be 1-4-1: one minute after walk-on to be ready for the pre-match meeting, followed by the four-minute warm-up, then one minute to be ready to start the match [revised from 1-5-1 in 2019].
· The tournament will no longer use the grass-court seeding formula: seedings will follow the Tour rankings for both men and women.
· Wednesday 16 June: Further updates on The Championships including wild cards
· Monday 21 – Thursday 24 June: Qualifying NB no spectators
· Wednesday 23 June: Seeds announced
· Friday 25 June: Official draw
· Saturday 26 June and Sunday 27 June: Player press conferences
· Monday 28 June – Sunday 11 July: The Championships
· Monday 5 – Sunday 11 July: Junior Championships
· Thursday 8 – Sunday 11 July: Wheelchair and Quad Wheelchair Championships
Middle Sunday abandoned from 2022
From 2022, to coincide with the centenary of Centre Court, ‘Middle Sunday’ will become a permanent part of the tournament schedule, turning The Championships into a 14-day event.
Chairman Ian Hewitt explained:
“Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years or so and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest.
“This provides us with the opportunity, to enhance the accessibility, reach and fanbase of Wimbledon, both in the UK and globally. It will also ensure greater resilience and fairness of the tournament programme for our competitors, and enable us to create a different kind of atmosphere on the ‘Middle Sunday’, with a strong focus on the local community in particular.”
Historically, there has been a ‘day of rest’ for both grass and personnel at the half-way point of the tournament, though this is now a unique feature within the Grand Slam family. However, the playing of the entire fourth round on one day, what became known as ‘Manic Monday’, brought with it, significant scheduling headaches. So from next year, the fourth-round matches will be spread over two days.