FFT targets 60-per-cent fan occupancy rate at French Open

The newly-built roof on the Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros (by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) has revealed how it plans have a spectator capacity of 50 to 60 per cent at this year’s French Open, a move that will potentially allow up to 20,000 people to attend each day’s play.

The FFT announced last month that its grand slam tournament would be moved back one week from its initially rescheduled dates, while stating its ambition that fans would be allowed to attend. The tournament will now take place on September 27 to October 11. It had previously been moved from its original dates at the end of May to September 20-October 4 owing to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The move came amid a rejig of ATP Tour and WTA Tour calendars. It also allows the French tournament to run a qualifying tournament starting September 21, giving lower-ranked players the possibility of competing for much-needed income.

The FFT has now said that a new ticket sales process for the tournament will open on July 9. With its new plan, the Federation said it is “acting responsibly” and in close collaboration with French government authorities, while benefitting from the advice of a committee of multi-disciplinary experts. Stating it is “adapting and will continue to adapt” to the situation caused by the pandemic, the FFT said it has prepared a protocol that aims to protect spectators.

The FFT has devised an organisation strategy that limits the number of spectators inside the stadium in ratio to the overall stadium capacity, a principle that has been implemented in France’s cinemas and theatres.

This means that on the three show courts, Philippe-Chatrier, Suzanne-Lenglen and Simonne-Mathieu, tiered seating will follow a precise protocol. On every row, one seat will be left empty between every group of purchasers, with a maximum of four people being able to sit together.

On the outside courts, every other seat will be out of use, and spectators may sit in any of the available seats. The FFT said: “This way, the number of spectators allowed inside the stadium will be 50 to 60 per cent of its usual capacity, allowing us to ensure the barrier measures are respected.”

These measures are expected to allow 20,000 spectators per day during the early stages of the tournament, and about 10,000 on the day of the final. These numbers could be revised depending on government guidance.

The FFT will adapt the way spectators move around the Roland-Garros site in order to ensure that barrier measures and social distancing are respected. It added: “Though we recommend wearing a mask in the vicinity of the stadium and whenever you are standing or sitting still inside the grounds (in the stands), any spectators moving around the 12-hectare site of Roland-Garros stadium will be obliged to wear a mask.

“The layout of the various spaces will be adapted according to the current health guidelines, namely to ensure social distancing is respected. Finally, the cleaning and disinfecting of the various areas will be stepped up and distributers of hydroalcoholic solution will be installed.

“This way – thanks to the organising conditions and the close and constructive collaboration with the Ministry of Sports – the autumn edition of Roland-Garros will manage to combine the excitement of the world’s best clay court tournament with the strict adherence of the current hygiene measures.”

The FFT has taken a markedly different approach to organisers of tennis’ remaining grand slams for the 2020 season. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) last month unveiled its plans for this year’s US Open, which will be held behind closed doors at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, New York, from August 31 through September 13.

The 2020 Wimbledon Championships were due to commence on Monday. However, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) announced the event’s cancellation in April due to the global pandemic. It is the first time since World War II that Wimbledon has been called off.

This year’s Australian Open was able to proceed as scheduled from January 20 to February 2, but the Covid-19 situation in its home state of Victoria led to reports its 2021 edition may need to move to either Sydney or Brisbane.

Victoria today (Friday) reported another 66 Covid-19 cases, the 17th consecutive day of double-digit infection numbers, but Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley has maintained the Open will remain in Melbourne.

He told the AAP news agency: “Nothing has changed for us in terms of our planning,”

“The environment around us has changed, and will continue to change, as we’ve seen with the current spike in Victoria. We’re optimistic the additional measures currently in place will be successful — and restrictions will continue to be eased over the coming months.

“So I’m confident we will run the Australian Open in Melbourne and other events around Australia in January and we’re working closely with all our authorities on the regulations regarding mass gatherings, physical distancing and increased hygiene that are being put in place.”