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French Open takes a hit amid tight Covid-19 rules and new crowd limit

The French Open is set to begin on September 27 amid strict sanitary rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic
The French Open is set to begin on September 27 amid strict sanitary rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic © Franck Fife, AFP
5 min

A Bosnian competitor of this year’s French Open has threatened to sue organisers of the claycourt major following his forced withdrawal over what he claims was a “false positive Covid test”. The backlash comes as Roland Garros chiefs prepared to drastically cut crowd capacity to 1,000 fans a day.

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Having been pushed back four months to September to avoid the worst of the Covid pandemic, the French Open at Roland Garros faces a potential lawsuit from a disgruntled Bosnian competitor and a fresh tightening of its health safety rules.

The French Open was bracing Thursday to cut its crowd capacity once again to as low as 1,000 a day after the French Health minister Olivier Véran announced new measures against the deadly pandemic. French tennis officials had already reduced the maximum number of fans to 5,000 ten days ago, down from the 11,500 limit set during summer. Before Covid, the French Open venue was able to host as many as 50,000 fans per day.

"To date, we have no confirmation on the conditions of the organisation of the tournament," said a French Tennis Federation spokesman.

The new limit was announced as strict health protocols came under the spotlight after Bosnian player Damir Dzumhur threatened to launch a lawsuit against the organisers of the tournament after what he reckons was a "false positive" Covid-19 test.

Dzumhur, a former top 30 player now ranked 114th, was made to withdraw after his coach Petar Popovic, with whom he shared a hotel room, tested positive.

"We're sure it was a false positive because my trainer has anti-bodies," Dzumhur wrote on Instagram. "He was not allowed to take a second test. I am devastated."

Back in Serbia, Popovic took two Covid tests - one in the nose, another in the throat - that came back negative. The coach told French newspaper L'Equipe that it was a "scandal" and had "Nadal been in our shoes, he would have had the right to a second or third test". A lawyer is already looking at the case, according to L’Equipe.

Strict health rules

The strict health regulations are being enforced to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection at the French Open, said tournament organisers.

All competitors are tested upon their arrival. A second test is carried out 72 hours later, and then another every five days based on a player's progression in the tournament. Coaches are also required to wear a face mask during training sessions, according to Sven Groeneveld, who is accompanying Japanese competitor Taro Daniel. 

Players and their entourage are staying at two specific hotels, and have been barred from travelling anywhere other than to and from the tournament site and their accommodation. 

Those overseeing the health rules are acting on them without hesitation. 

"On Sunday, a competitor was stuck in a traffic jam 500 metres from his hotel because of the Tour de France. He called to know if he could exit the car to go back on foot to his hotel. We refused," Dr Bernard Montalvan, who is in charge of the Covid protocols at Roland Garros, told the AFP news agency.

‘Helpless’ competitors

On Sunday night, the French Tennis Federation said that five players due to take part in the men's qualifier had been denied a place. Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with a coach who had also returned a positive test. A female player set to feature in the qualifying phase had been stood down following a positive Covid-19 test.

As the Bosnian team prepared its lawsuit, the tournament's health official said that all competitors had signed a contract outlining the conditions of play and the consequences of a positive coronavirus test.

"To us, only nasal tests matter (...) If a coach who has tested positive sleeps in the same room as his player, then the player will be considered at risk. That's why we have advised coaches and players not to share the same room," explained Dr Bernard Montalvan.

Concerns have been expressed over how tightly controlled the conditions of the game have become, with some competitors saying the safety measures are taking a toll on the athletes' mental health.

"I have heard of players who have been stuck in their room for 30 hours. We feel helpless in that situation," French tennis player Alyzé Cornet told BFM television. "This is really distressing (...) Players have to cope with anxiety."

This article was translated from the original in French.

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