SINGAPORE: No spectators will be allowed at the upcoming Singapore Tennis Open, said organisers in a press release on Friday (Feb 19).
The event, which will be held at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena, will run from Feb 22 to Feb 28 with qualifiers taking place on Feb 20 and 21.
This is the first time that Singapore is hosting an Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour tournament in 22 years. The country has hosted the Women's Tennis Association Finals in recent years.
The decision to disallow spectators at the OCBC Arena was "for safety reasons", the organisers said.
But fans could still be allowed in from the middle of next week, depending on how many COVID-19 cases Singapore reports from now until then, said the head of the organising committee.
Among the familiar names taking part will be 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic and current world number 35, Adrian Mannarino. Notable Asian players include Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka and India's Rohan Bopanna.
All players travelling from the Australian Open to participate in the Singapore Tennis Open will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival into Singapore. Players will be isolated until they receive a negative test result, and will also need to download the TraceTogether App during their stay in Singapore.
After their arrival, players will continue to be isolated and have their movements strictly managed between their official hotel and the OCBC Arena.
Players will also be further isolated in individual team “bubbles” and will not be able to have close and prolonged interaction with other players.
For instance, players have individual gym rooms located on the hotel floors they are staying at, and individual dining rooms on a separate dining floor to prevent mixing between teams during meal times.
Overseas officials and tournament staff will also be required to adhere to similar protocol and will have no direct contact with the players.
The tournament will use a virtual line calling system instead of line judges, while ball boys and girls will wear masks and faces shields and not handle players' towels.
"Containment plans have also been developed should there be a COVID-19 case detected," said the organisers.
Singapore Tennis Open organising committee chairman and Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin told reporters in a virtual briefing on Friday that players who test positive will not be allowed to compete.
Mr Lim said there are different protocols for positive cases depending on where they are at, be it the hotel, on transport or the OCBC Arena.
"So we've mapped out every single step of the way, where they could be at the time the test results come in," he added.
"It will indeed mean that if there is COVID-plus player or COVID-plus coach, and there's an ongoing match, we have the protocols that we will work with ATP officials to withdraw the affected person to an isolation centre, before we get them transported to NCID (National Centre for Infectious Diseases).
"And from then on, they will follow our national protocols."
More than 200 people, including players, family members, coaches and officials, are expected to fly in for the tournament.
All players will undergo daily COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction tests throughout their stay in Singapore.
Fifty players have arrived, with more arriving over the weekend. There have been no positive test results so far, Mr Lim said.
Local tournament staff, officials, and volunteers are required to undergo daily antigen rapid tests and will only be allowed on-site upon receiving a negative test result.
These personnel will be socially distanced and have no physical contact with players. Measures such as virtual press conferences, strictly digital communication between players and tournament liaisons, and dedicated socially-distanced zones will further segment the working groups.
“Hosting the Singapore Tennis Open will give us an opportunity to exercise our protocols and show how we can restart international-level sports offerings safely in Singapore," said Mr Lim in the press release.
Mr Lim said that the tournament will be held with stringent safe management measures in place, ensuring that all who are involved, and those in the wider community, are safe.
SPECTATORS COULD STILL BE ALLOWED IN
But he did not rule out shutting off the event completely to fans, saying that there could be a review by the organisers to see whether fans could be allowed in.
"We would like to open the door for a review midway in the tournament, to see if conditions would allow us to bring spectators to come and attend the event on its final weekend," he said at Friday's virtual media briefing.
"So we are sparing no effort to keep the event safe, and to run a successful and smooth tournament and open the possibility of a review sometime mid-next week to see if we can entertain spectators at the end of the week."
Mr Lim said one of the main determiners behind the decision whether to allow spectators in would be the number of COVID-19 cases reported in Singapore next week.
"Obviously the biggest risks right now are the risks of imported transmission. As you can see ... on a daily basis ... the COVID-19 cases that we've seen have largely been imported," he said.
"These people (attending the tournament) are travelling in from Australia (from the Australian Open) and other parts of the world.
"What we want to be able to ensure is that we have been relatively COVID-19 free, so that if we do not have any positive case from now on to midweek next week, we will take into account that factor as one of the main factors."
Mr Lim said a decision could be expected next Wednesday or Thursday, at the round of 16 or quarter-final stage of the tournament.
Mr Lim said Singapore Tennis Open organisers had initially planned for there to be spectators, until authorities tightened coronavirus restrictions leading up to Chinese New Year amid a rise in community cases.
"I think the COVID-19 ministerial task force has been very clear in their explanation of the need to enhance measures, because of what we were seeing around the world, and what we were seeing at the Australian Open (where a number of players have tested positive)," he said.
"So, I think it represents a certain agility and adaptation to the prevailing situation and we must be able to work in accordance with the prevailing situation.
"Obviously for One Championship, they have been in country and they have a very different profile in terms of the control of travel and movement than we have over the tennis world."
LOW EXPECTATIONS ON TICKETING, SPONSORSHIP REVENUE
Nevertheless, Mr Lim is confident that despite the short lead time, tickets would be "snapped up quite quickly" if fans were let in.
Around 200 to 250 spectators are expected, similar to the other recently held sporting events.
Mr Lim said organisers were not expecting a lot of sponsorship or ticketing revenue due to the current economic situation and restrictions on spectator numbers.
"But what I would like to say is that the sponsors that have come on board have largely been sponsoring us in kind, and the partners that we've been working with have been very big collaborators in keeping costs under control," he said.