Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley says some form of quarantine is a must for the Tokyo Olympics to be able to take place safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on ABC Melbourne’s Grand National show on Saturday morning, Tiley said without quarantine, Games organisers were taking a big risk of large infection events taking place.
Tiley said he had not spoken directly to anyone at the Australian Olympic Committee, but had “read the playbook”.
“I’m sure there is more detail behind what I have read, but I do know that if you put anyone that is incubating the virus — because you can still test negative and be incubating the virus — and you put them in the bubble and they then infect others in the bubble … you have athletes showing up to the Olympic Games, who’ve spent the last five years preparing for this moment and they get taken out because they either test positive or are close contacts.
“I think that would be disastrous for that athlete.”
So, how would Tiley recommend the Olympic organisers went about things?
Australian Open a good example for others to follow
This month’s Australian Open was the world’s first major multi-national sporting event to take place during the pandemic.
“We are the only ones who have done it,” Tiley said.
“We’ve, for six weeks, had 1,000 internationals come from all over the world — all hotspots — over a hundred countries into quarantine for 14 days and another three weeks of competition — and with fans.”
Tiley said his team gained significant learnings from their experiences in running a major event in a pandemic.
“The [crisis management] team did a magnificent job, it was very well coordinated, we’ve got some great leaders, they’re capable of doing anything.
“If you got that team and you popped it in Tokyo and asked them to put the Games together, they’d do it seamlessly in my view because we’ve had so much practice.”
Testing and isolation
Tiley said a combination of testing and isolation was the only way to ensure there was no widespread transmission amongst athletes heading to the Olympics.
“In order to ensure that every athlete is safe to compete … you have to clear those athletes getting into the bubble, you have to design a program that clears them, so it’s a combination of testing and isolation.
“So, whether they come into some place in Japan, a competition site, and they isolate and test — they can still train in a secure environment — and then they compete, that’s your only sure way of getting to the point of an athlete not infecting others.
“The only other solution is not test people, but I think that would be very short sighted and naive because you have to protect not only the athlete, but [everyone else at the Games].”
Limit people travelling to Tokyo
Tiley also said it was important that only essential people made the trip to Japan.
“This is the time now when you reduce the visitation, reduce the travel to Tokyo, just take the athletes and their direct support teams,” he said.
“All the peripheral staff and federation people that go and watch and enjoy the Games, this is the time that they should actually stay at home so they don’t become the cause of any further spread of the virus.”
Tiley said this reduced the likelihood of any outbreaks that could further sour the Japanese population’s perception of the Games taking place.
Taking all precautions to ensure the public remain on side
Keeping the public on side will be a tough ask in Japan. Reports suggest that as many as 80 per cent of the population are against the Games taking place.
Tiley said he could empathise.
“I know the feeling, because there were many Victorians who were against having the Australian Open,” he said.
“But, over a period of time, if you can prove your safety and prove you’re doing the right thing, they’ll turn the corner, which [in Melbourne] they did.
“I think by the end of the Australian Open most Victorians were very much in favour of it and appreciated the economic impact we had and the confidence we put back in the community.”
Adapt on the fly
Tiley said that by the end of the Open, organisers had eight possible scenarios they were working under, but no matter how many plans you had in place, flexibility was important.
“The biggest learning that I’ve taken from this is that have your plan in place, but mobilise yourself to be able to adjust at any point,” he said.
“We didn’t have in our plan that one of the hotels, every player in there, a few days before the event, is a casual contact and would have to isolate and test, turn around 507 tests in 24 hours and have to hope that none of them were positive because if one of them was positive we were almost going to have to cancel the event.”
Tiley said the isolate and test scenario was one of two occasions where he thought the tournament would be cancelled, the other coming during Melbourne’s snap lockdown.
“We did not have that particular case in our planning, so this is not particularly straight forward, but [it is important to] have a plan and just be ready to change it.”
Will Australian players travel?
Despite the risks and concerns of Tiley, he said it would be up to individual players as to whether they decided to go to the Olympics this year.
Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios notably stayed in Australia last year, instead of competing on the world tour.
“We’ll talk to our Australian players and let them know the risks and let them make their own decisions independently, but if we feel it’s not a safe environment then we will advise them not to travel.
“But ultimately it’s going to be up to the athletes, we’ll support their decisions, but really we need some more information to ensure it’s a very safe environment.”