French Open or­ga­niz­ers still hope for 5,000 fans each day

Sherbrooke Record - - LOCAL SPORTS - By Jerome Pugmire The As­so­ci­ated Press

The French Open may have to re­duce the num­ber of fans at Roland Gar­ros from 5,000 to 1,000 for the clay-court ten­nis tour­na­ment.

French Health Min­is­ter Olivier Veran said Wed­nes­day that a new limit of 1,000 peo­ple will be im­posed at big events in big cities like Paris amid grow­ing coronaviru­s con­cerns. But dis­cus­sions be­tween the Paris po­lice and of­fi­cials are on­go­ing as to how this will af­fect Roland Gar­ros, which be­gins on Sun­day and ends on Oct. 11.

“We’re still hop­ing to get 5,000 fans. The last we heard of­fi­cially from the po­lice pre­fec­ture was that 5,000 is very, very safe. We are play­ing the tour­na­ment on the size of 15 football (soccer) fields and an out­side sta­dium,’’ tour­na­ment direc­tor Guy For­get said Thurs­day in an on­line news con­fer­ence. “We have all the health pro­ce­dures with the masks and with the gel to clean your hands.

“I’m hop­ing as the tour­na­ment direc­tor that the next dis­cus­sions we’ll have, with the CEO of our fed­er­a­tion and with our pres­i­dent and the au­thor­i­ties, will lead us to stay on that path (of 5,000 fans).’’

The Tour de France fin­ished last Sun­day. Dur­ing the cy­cling race’s fi­nal days in the moun­tains, tele­vi­sion cam­eras showed hun­dreds of fans stand­ing side by side and some­times very close to the cy­clists as they rolled past. Many fans were not wear­ing masks and oth­ers screamed en­cour­age­ment into the faces of rid­ers as they rode past. But there were no pos­i­tive COVID-19 tests recorded among the 176 starters or 146 fin­ish­ers.

For­get was asked if it would be strange for Roland Gar­ros to slash its ca­pac­ity to 1,000 per day given that Tour, spread over three weeks and with lesser so­cial dis­tanc­ing, saw far higher num­bers of fans present yet led to no pos­i­tive cases.

“There won’t be any in­ter­ac­tion be­tween play­ers and fans (and) fans will be pro­tected from each other,’’ For­get said in English. “I be­lieve we can do a lot bet­ter in terms of pro­tec­tion for fans and ath­letes here in Roland Gar­ros than the Tour de France. Any­way, the Tour de France went re­ally well. It was won­der­ful to see the way it was han­dled.’’

For­get said it would send out the wrong mes­sage to im­pose fur­ther re­stric­tions on Roland Gar­ros af­ter the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity was grad­u­ally re­duced from 11,500 to 5,000 last week.

“Ev­ery sub­se­quent re­stric­tion is an­other sign that it’s dan­ger­ous to come,’’ For­get said. “(We are) in an out­side arena with a lot of space be­tween peo­ple, ways for peo­ple to get in and out. Ev­ery sin­gle per­son will wear a mask, in­clud­ing the ball boys, the lines­men, the chair um­pire. Only the play­ers, while they play, will have their face un­cov­ered.’’

So far, or­ga­niz­ers have an­nounced the virus-caused with­drawals of six play­ers from qual­i­fy­ing, three who tested pos­i­tive and three in close con­tact with their coach who tested pos­i­tive.

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