'Huge blow': Wheelchair tennis players slam US Open omission

Tournament officials accused of discrimination for scrapping wheelchair event amid coronavirus pandemic.

    'Huge blow': Wheelchair tennis players slam US Open omission
    Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain and Dylan Alcott of Australia won the men's doubles event last year [File: Elsa/Getty Images/AFP]

    Top professional wheelchair tennis players have slammed a decision by US Open officials to scrap the wheelchair event from this year's tournament as "disgusting discrimination".

    Tournament organisers confirmed earlier this week that a curtailed US Open will go ahead - from August 31 to September 13 in New York - without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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    The qualifying event for able-bodied players, mixed doubles and junior competitions were also eliminated, while the number of teams in the men's and women's doubles events was reduced by half in a bid to cut the number of players at the tournament for health reasons.

    Australian Paralympic champion Dylan Alcott said the wheelchair omission was "blatant discrimination" and the decision was made without consulting the players. 

    "I thought I did enough to qualify - 2x champion, number 1 in the world," the 10-time Grand Slam winner wrote on Twitter. "But unfortunately I missed the only thing that mattered, being able to walk. Disgusting discrimination."

    Reigning singles and doubles champion with Alcott, Andy Lapthorne, expressed his disappointment over not being able to defend his titles, saying it was a "kick in the teeth".

    "It's really tough to take," the 29-year-old British athlete told the BBC.

    "We've had to battle for a lot over the years for what we've got right now," he said. "It just feels like we're going back years, and that's what hurts the most."

    The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of wheelchair tennis, said it "understands and shares the disappointment" caused by the decision.

    "We continue to discuss with the organisers' potential approaches that could allow the wheelchair tennis competition to take place either on or off site," the ITF said in a statement on Thursday.

    US Open
    The US Open will take place without spectators from August 31 to September 13 in New York [File: Peter Morgan/AP]

    Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) urged the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to reconsider its decision.

    "We appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up multiple challenges for sport event organisers all around the world, but such challenges should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against a group of players and not offer inclusive competition for all," IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement. 

    On Friday, Tennis Australia said they were optimistic of running a full programme at January's Australian Open in Melbourne. 

    With New York still reporting hundreds of COVID-19 cases each day, the US Open will be the first Grand Slam staged without fans.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies