If you’ve been following the news of the pandemic, you know that the situation in France has taken a few steps back in recent weeks.
There has been a resurgence in cases. And as a result, the Roland Garros has been forced to scale back what had already appeared to be far-too-optimistic plans in terms of welcoming the public to the unusual fall edition.
Rather late in the day, the French Tennis Federation appears to be scrambling to try to put together a more restrictive, safer plan for the event.
The original plan called for half the usual number of spectators to attend the tournament.
If you’ve ever been on the site during Roland Garros, given it’s relatively small footprint compared to the other three, you already knew that even half the number of fans would still cause gridlock in many areas of the site.
Especially around Court Suzanne Lenglen, which was parachuted into the site later on, and which requires fans to squeeze around the sides of it if they want to reach the back field courts.
That there are food concessions on the side of Lenglen where said fans are trying to get by only adds to the cluster.
Splitting into three separate sites
The new guidelines have the 30-acre site divided into three separate zones – but they still plan to have 5,000 fans on each of Court Philippe-Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen.
On Court Simonne-Mathieu, a third show court added last year, the capacity will be 1,500.
The plan is that the fans can only be in the “zone” for which they have a ticket.
The two main stadiums include some of the field courts. If you head over to Simonne-Mathieu, that’s the only court on which you can watch tennis.
Every second seat
The seats will be allocated with “one seat empty on every row”. The notion being that groups of purchasers (to a maximum of four) can sit together, but with a seat left vacant between them and another group.
That groups can buy tickets and sit together – without any evidence that they are family or live together – is a personal choice by those fans.
But it’s a pretty dodgy proposition.
And it’s also pretty difficult to police; it’s hard to fathom they will have seating police roaming the stands to make sure that those who are sitting together are technically allowed to sit together.
On the field courts, every second seat will not be used.
In both cases, it seems apparent, there will be no empty rows as has been in the case in some of the exhibition events. So a fan could well be sitting right behind another fan – potentially screaming, or sneezing, or talking loudly, or coughing into their backs.
The fans might be required to wear masks in the seats. But they will be snacking and drinking, you would think.
There will be no grounds passes sold.
What could possibly go wrong, right?
July plans too optimistic
Things were going reasonably well back then. So the original plan for Roland Garros back in July involved substantially more fans.
They were going to welcome fans for the qualifying, which is held in a more restricted part of the site, and for which there are nice but hardly overwhelming crowds.
But they hadn’t mandated the wearing of masks – only recommending it unless you were walking around the grounds (not sitting inside the stadium).
But, in the big picture, they haven’t significantly downscaled the plans, in terms of total numbers.
No fans for Roland Garros qualies
In the new plan, no fans at all will be allowed for the qualifying tournament – an event that has been marketed separately in recent years and is a great deal for the fans.
“There are many players who will need to practice on site in this
first week. The players will be able to prepare for the tournament in peaceful conditions, as the stadium will be open just for them,” the statement read.
(This goes along with the tournament’s lontime quaint notion of keeping practice schedules secret and severely limiting the media’s ability to even watch said practices, then they take place at nearby Parc Jean-Bouin).
The organizers have cancelled and will refund tickets sold for the qualifying, the field courts and some of the tickets for the three show courts. The fans will be given an opportunity to get a special deal on any remaining valid tickets that will be available; they will go on sale this Friday.
Masks required at all times
Anyone over the age of 11 will be required to wear a mask or face covering at all times. They will “step up” the cleaning and disinfection protocols, and will install hand sanitizer dispensers around the grounds.
(Hopefully there will be more of those than there are water fountains).
As Open Court wrote on Twitter several days ago, the players will now be required to stay in one of two designated hotels. The top-60 are assigned to one hotel. Per Eric Salliot, that will be the Pullman.
(You can, as of this morning, still book rooms at that hotel as a random fan, if you’re willing to pay the price).
French players who live in apartments within walking distance of the site will still be required to stay at the hotel. Which will thrill … many of them – especially those who bore the brunt of the US Open quarantine experience (Hello, Kristina Mladenovic).
The players will only be granted access to the stadium on match days. On practice days, they will have to go to Jean-Bouin. That feels like a step up from the US Open, although the proximity of the club long used as a practice facility makes that significantly easier to organize.
They will have to step up the level of facilities and services at that location, though.
Evening out the prize money
Roland Garros also is changing the distribution of prize money, and will increase the prize money for first round losers 30 per cent from last year.
If you lost in the first round at the US Open, you earned $61,000 US. If you lose in the first round in Paris, you will earn €60,000 ($70,904 US).
The prize money in qualifying is up 27 per cent compared to 2019; a first-round loser in qualifying will get €10,000 ($11,817).
The US Open, of course, had no qualifying this year.
FFT president Giudicelli adamant
In an interview Sunday with RMC Sport, French Federation president Bernard Giudicelli was pretty adamant that, despite the pandemic, there were going to be fans at Roland Garros in two weeks.
The reductions from the original plan were, relatively speaking, pretty minor.
“In my mind, in our minds, yes (we’ve excluded the no-fans option). All those years that we have given for this stadium,” he said.
Our mission is service. I feel very close to the government – to (prime minister0 Jean Castex, the president and the sports minister. We must help them show that France can meet the challenges,” he added.
Coronavirus making a comeback
If the Parisians became a little laissez-faire about the coronavirus this summer – joie de vivre and all that – the numbers have been climbing as a result.
Last week, a mandatory face mark rule was instituted in Paris. A week ago, the highest number of new cases (7,379) seen since May was recorded in France. And per the BBC report, the number of active virus “red zones” has risen from two to … 21.
The Paris area has been re-classified as “active” since Aug. 14.
The “three-zone” plan is designed to fit within the regulations that no more than 5,000 people can gather in stadiums. Those restrictions are in place until at least Oct. 30, even if the police departement can authorize exceptions.
Roland Garros vous remercie
Does it feel like WAY too many? Of course it does.
But by dividing up the site the tournament can have 5,000 in Court Philippe-Chatrier, and 5,000 more in Court Suzanne Lenglen and still stay within the mandate.
The challenge, of course, isn’t even so much the still relative close proximity inside these outdoor venues. The traffic on the site – even in the zoning plan – when matches let out and there are good matches on the field courts will make social distancing virtually unworkable.
It feels as though a Suzanne Lenglen ticket would be a far better bet than a Court Philippe-Chatrier ticket, given all the field courts located behind Suzanne Lenglen that surely will be part of that “zone”.
Still, the entire plan does give one a bit of a queasy feeling.