‘Reckless’: Djokovic tennis event gets flak over coronavirus fear

Despite pandemic, players give high fives, hug in front of closely seated fans at charity tournament in Serbia.

Adria Tour
A capacity crowd attended the Novak Tennis Center in Serbia's capital, Belgrade [Marko Djurica/Reuters]

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.

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?”

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). 

The Adria Tour, which is being held across the Balkans, will make its next stop in Croatia on June 20 and end in Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 5.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera