A charity tennis event organised by men’s top-ranked player Novak Djokovic that drew big crowds over the weekend has sparked criticism for its lack of safety precautions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of fans were seated closely inside the stadium and without face masks as top players were seen giving high fives and hugging on court in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
With the professional tennis tour suspended until at least August because of the coronavirus pandemic, some big names, including men’s world number three Dominic Thiem, Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, were in action for the first leg of the Adria Tour – a four-weekend regional tournament.
Watching the all the human closeness and hugging at Adria Tour, you'd almost forget why the Adria Tour exists in the first place.
Hope it goes well, but golly does seeing crowds like this make me nervous in June 2020. https://t.co/o3deFPGkKJ
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 12, 2020
Incredible to see fans in Belgrade watching tennis with no social distancing. It is as if Coronavirus has passed? How was this managed and why no concern for public social distancing and face masks. I know the figures in Serbia but why are they able to do this?
— Greg Rusedski (@GregRusedski1) June 15, 2020
The matches were played without restrictions, with ball kids handing players towels, players shaking hands with the umpires, and signing autographs as well as taking selfies with fans.
Sports commentator Nick McCarvel said the images from the event were “shocking”.
“Players are calling for safety measures at the US Open and saying they might not play … but are OK w/full stadiums, a packed, close-quarters kids day, hugs, mic-sharing, selfies at an exo? Actually can’t believe what I’m seeing.”
Former British number one Greg Rusedski asked: “How was this managed and why no concern for public social distancing and face masks. I know the figures in Serbia, but why are they able to do this?”
If Serbian health authorities deem crowd conditions safe then surely that's their call. But it's very 'surprising' to see recently arrived international players hugging each other/getting up close etc. while simultaneously talking up US Open fears.
— Mike Dickson (@Mike_Dickson_DM) June 12, 2020
This is absolutely reckless, are there no liability laws in Serbia? How are they not scared of being sued into obvilion if there’s an outbreak?
— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) June 12, 2020
Serbia has registered more than 12,000 COVID-19 cases – of which 11,500 people have recovered and at least 254 died. The government lifted a state of emergency and eased lockdown restrictions last month.
Djokovic said it was not up to him to “make the calls” about “what is right or wrong health-wise” and his event was following government guidelines.
“We have different circumstances and measures so it’s very difficult to think of international standards,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion told a news conference, adding Serbia has “better numbers” of coronavirus infections compared with other countries.
“Of course, lives have been lost and that’s horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on and we as athletes are looking forward to competing.”
Last week, Djokovic hinted he was considering skipping the US Open in New York because of “extreme conditions” – including a mandatory 14-day quarantine for players coming from outside the US and a limit of one person accompanying players to matches – proposed by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
As great as it is to see live tennis again, pretty surreal setting in Belgrade with unrelated people sitting very close together in stadium seats, and haven't seen any masks. Looks so much like a pre covid-19 event #AdriaTour
— Jazmin (@Jaz_Barton) June 13, 2020
Wait the Adria Tour has a full crowd? With no masks? Is it being held in an entirely different world where COVID never happened? 🎾 #confused
— Traveling Marketer (@travelingmkter) June 13, 2020
I'm seeing the Adria tour on @TennisChannel
I have questions??????? Are Serbians immune to COVID-19? Has there been no outbreak of the pandemic in Serbia?
Seriously, @NoahEagle15 & Lindsey an explanation of the crowd, ball kids, towels…it all looks like 2019?
— sharon k roberts (@teachjourno) June 13, 2020
The third leg in Montenegro was scrapped because Serbians are still banned from entering the Adriatic republic because of coronavirus restrictions.
Funds raised from the tour will go to humanitarian projects across the region, as well as coronavirus relief charities chosen by the players.