Australian Open 2021: What it took to prepare Melbourne Park
The global pandemic has been difficult for sports fans all over the world. Although sports have resumed, stadiums have been at reduced capacity or empty, but fans will be able to attend the first grand slam of the year.
The Australian Open 2021 is taking place from February 8 to 21 and fans are being cautiously welcomed back to Melbourne Park. However, this is no reckless abandonment of the rules; tournament organisers have gone to extreme lengths to keep everyone safe, while still enjoying the world-class tennis on display.
Melbourne Park’s capacity will be restricted to 30,000 per day for the first eight days of the tournament, before being reduced to 25,000 per day for the quarter-finals onwards. This means the three main arenas – Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena – will be at significantly reduced capacity.
For the first time, all tickets are being sold digitally, with fans required to scan in on their mobile phones. This ensures that if needed, full contact tracing can be carried out. QR codes will also be used at each court for fans to check-in to further assist with contact tracing.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who managed to secure a ticket for the event, here’s what you can expect when you arrive at Melbourne Park.
One of the risks for the transmission of COVID-19 is touching a surface which has been infected with the virus. Reducing the opportunities for this to occur is an enormous challenge for the Australian Open organisers, but they’ve done their best to minimise the risk.
High traffic areas will be disinfected regularly by a team of roving cleaners, with all rails, handles and tough points completely cleaned between sessions.
Any opportunity to completely eradicate the need to touch a surface has also been taken. This means there will be no cash payments permitted at the event; all transactions must be completed using a debit or credit card (or mobile phone with a card loaded onto it).
There will still be food and drink available to purchase around the venue. These sales will also be touch-free, with bins and hand sanitisers available nearby.
Of course, you can reduce the risk even further by bringing in your own food and drink. As long as the drinks bottle isn’t made of metal and is smaller than 600ml, there are no rules preventing you from bringing your own.
You could save money on items too, by checking out these IGA products on offer. You could stay hydrated with Lightly Sparkling Spring Water from Mount Franklin, just $6.10 for a pack of four. If you get the munchies while you’re watching the tennis, having a Roar Protein Cheese Snack Pack (available for just $4) stashed in your bag will be a godsend.
One of the biggest changes for fans this year is that they won’t be able to roam freely. Melbourne Park has been split up into three separate zones, each with their own entry and exit points. For the duration of your visit, you must remain in your own ticketed zone.
When you visit other areas within your zone, such as courts and bars, you will be required to check in by scanning the QR codes. This is to ensure full tracking, and tracing can be carried out if necessary.
The seating will look very different too. You won’t be sitting closely alongside fans from outside your household. Instead, fan “pods” have been created which have up to six seats each. These will be distanced from other people, and different pods cannot mingle.
Social distancing will be encouraged at all times and markings will be included around the stadium to help visitors keep the correct distance away from others.
As per Victorian guidelines, visitors must be carrying a mask at all times. While indoors, a mask must be worn unless eating or drinking. You can remove your mask while seated outdoors but if the roof is closed, a mask must also be worn while you are seated.
Tournament organisers hope visitors will be responsible and follow the spirit of the guidelines, enabling the event to be enjoyed without endangering safety. Lots of planning and thought have gone into the new rules with the aim of allowing the Australian Open to go ahead while protecting people too.
Last year’s Australian Open attracted 812,174 spectators across the 14 days of the tournament, with a record 93,709 on day six. While those numbers won’t be repeated this year, it’s a relief just to see fans back at a grand slam tennis tournament for the first time in almost a year.
UPDATE: Due to a small Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews imposed a five-day snap lockdown from 11:59pm on February 12, meaning fans will not be able to attend the event for the duration of the lockdown.