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Wimbledon plans return in 2021, with or without fans

LONDON: The Wimb­ledon tennis tournament is planning its comeback in 2021.

Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam tournament cancelled this year for the first time since World War II because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the All England Club announced plans for its return next year.

The tennis season has been badly disrupted by Covid-19 but the US Open went ahead behind closed doors and the French Open took place in front of only 1,000 fans a day after its starting date was moved from May to late September after the Australian Open was held in normal circumstances at the beginning of the year.

Next year’s Wimbledon Championships could be held without spectators amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisers of the grasscourt Grand Slam said on Friday.

The All England Club is planning for several scenarios in 2021 — a full-capacity Wimbledon, reduced numbers of fans or holding the tournament with no spectators present. All of the options are dependent on the status of government and public health guidelines, the club said.

“Staging The Championships in 2021 is our number one priority and we are actively engaged in scenario planning in order to deliver on that priority,” All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton said in a statement.

The organisers would have learnt from the other Grand Slams and would also keep a close watch on the Australian Open, which is expected to be held in Melbourne in January.

“Our overriding priority will continue to be the health and safety of all of our stakeholders, in particular our guests, our staff, and our competitors,” the All England Club said. “We are working closely with the relevant government and public health authorities, alongside the rest of the sports industry, to understand the varying challenges and opportunities presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Wimbledon has been working closely with local communities during the pandemic and will continue to provide 200 hot meals a day to people in need until Christmas.

More than 750,000 ($970,000) has been donated to charities and organisations, while 30,000 of the famous Wimbledon towels that were intended to be used for the 2020 tournament have been given away.

Wimbledon had an insurance policy in place for the pandemic in 2020 but will not have similar cover next year and another cancellation would have a major financial impact on the sport in United Kingdom.

The pandemic, which has killed over a million people worldwide since emerging in China late last year, will force London into a tighter COVID-19 lockdown from midnight on Friday with the death toll in United Kingdom the highest in Europe.

The All England Club said former player Jamie Baker has been appointed as head of professional tennis and tournament director for the Wimbledon Championships, which will be held between June 28 to July 11 next year.

Next year’s Australian Open tournament at Melbourne Park is scheduled to run from January 18-31.

Australian Open chief executive Craig Tiley has said he wants international tennis players arriving for the tournament to be exempt from the 14-day hotel quarantines that are mandatory for inbound travellers.

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