When World Team Tennis originally sketched the plans to hold its entire season on one site – the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia – they hadn’t planned to require fans to wear masks.
But WTT CEO Carlos Silva says fans will be required to mask up for the three-week event, which gets under way on Sunday and ends with a final broadcast on CBS Aug. 2.
“Originally – because it was outdoors – we did not require masks. We’ve since changed that – well before everyone else did. About 10 days ago we made a decision that all fans would have to wear masks, that it would be a requirement to enter the stadium,” Silva said on a conference call with media Wednesday.
“Someone might have a drink or eat a hot dog, but then when you’re done you put your mask on,” he added. “If someone doesn’t want to do it, they don’t have to come into the stadium. We’re happy to give them a refund.”
That makes WTT the first pandemic event, as far as we can discern, that will make masks mandatory for the fans.
The public will be socially-distanced in the stadium, with rows between and only families allowed to sit together.
Masks for players on the bench
One of the fun parts of World Team Tennis is the interaction between the players on the court, and their teammates on the bench. While hugs and high fives will be replaced by racquet taps, masks also will be mandatory for the players from each team sitting on the bench.
The players (even those on the bench) will be required to be at least six feet apart; we’ll see how long that lasts.
Silva said that there will be no ballkids on the court. But in a move that will definitely add to the entertainment factor, teammates can act as ballkids during the matches, provided they keep their masks on.
Of all the questions posed during the conference call, Open Court (which was second-last to be called after about a dozen other media) was the only outlet to actually press for answers on the tennis question that has been in the news above all others – whether it’s safe to have players and fans congregating for tournaments.
It was astonishing, to be honest.
Lots of testing – but not everyone
Silva outlined some of the measures that will be taken, and said that players and staff will be treated the same way. Silva himself, after arriving at the Greenbrier site Tuesday, already has been tested twice.
Players on the nine WTT squads must be tested before they leave their home bases, with expected arrivals on Thursday and Friday. Once they arrive, they will be taken to a sports performance centre right outside the grounds to get a coronavirus test.
After that, they are to check into their rooms and stay put until the results of the tests come back in.
They don’t expect it will take long. However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence – even for major league, professional sports teams – that even the quick results are taking longer to come back than expected.
For the purposes of “players”, the WTT means the players, coaches, “essential WTT staff” and anyone 13 years old and up staying in the rooms with them.
Anyone coming from outside the U.S. must self-quarantine for 14 days (which basically lets out most Europeans who might have wanted to participate).
Hotel staff mingling with WTT folks
While the players and staff will have a dedicated dining area, the Greenbrier resort is open for business for other patrons. But when all guests enter the resort grounds, Silva said, they must have their temperature checked. If they are above 100.4F, they’re not allowed in.
There are a few holes in the puzzle, though. For one thing, media wanting to cover the event have to bring evidence of a negative test taken within five days of arrival, but won’t be tested at the WTT’s expense upon arrival, per the guidelines, unless they plan to stay the entire three weeks. In that case, they would join the regular testing schedule set out for players and staff.
There also is no mention of how often the hotel staff itself is tested (Open Court asking twice about the staff beyond the WTT staff, such as the hotel employees; Silva did not answer).
The players’ food will be provided through that hotel and venue catering staff, although the players will be served in a private room They are not allowed to go into the casino.
Positive test won’t stop play
Silva said that the players will also have a temperature check every morning, before they enter the stadium.
If a player tests positive for the virus once the season has begun, they would be quarantined in their room for a few days. Another test would be administered after 24 hours, in case there was a false positive. And a player would have to test negative two days in a row before being allowed back in to play.
If the player continued to test positive, they would be “eliminated from the competition, and we would monitor all the teammates and everyone in contact with that player the previous days,” Silva said. Those players would still get their full compensation. Assuming they didn’t have symptoms that require hospitalization, they would self-quarantine at the Greenbriar at the WTT’s expense, or if they arrived by car would be allowed to leave and self-quarantine at home.
There’s nothing in the event’s fact sheet that indicates what would happen, should hospitalization be required.
There will be a mid-season test for all players and staff – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the second week.
World Team Tennis has a great opportunity this year, as the tours have shut down, to have the best players commit to the entire three-week season rather than just jump in for a match or two.
It appears they are fully committed to making the most of it. All that remains is the implementation – with more than few fingers crossed that a little luck goes along with that as well.
“We are being smart and knowing every single day we have to be diligent, continue to adjust and understand what’s happening in the world, with our players and our staff and everyone’s going to enjoy WTT in 2020,” Silva said.
“It’s been a long road. We’re never out of the woods until one of the teams holds the King Trophy, live on CBS. We’ll continue to work 24/7.”