Written by By Staff Writer
If you’re planning to attend next month’s Australian Open and you’re planning to bring your kids along, you may want to think twice.
The tournament in Melbourne has announced plans to ban unvaccinated players from playing on center court, following a statement by World Health Organization last week that 300,000 people could be exposed to the highly contagious disease, regardless of their carrier status.
The move will prevent players who have had a confirmed measles vaccination from playing in the first week of the tournament, which starts on January 15.
This has raised concerns from parents who have children who have not been vaccinated, who will now be prevented from visiting the tournament grounds, leaving others at risk.
Open up the gates
The Australian Open is held at the Rod Laver Arena, the court which is hosting the tournament starting next month.
David Bush, a parent who attended the US Open this year, told CNN: “I am going to have to go against my grain for the next six months and not let my son play soccer because of this policy.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult. My son won’t come with me.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of kids that go to the Grand Slams every year and are perfectly fine to play sports but just don’t want to come.
“They feel like they’re second class citizens because of a policy that really doesn’t know what it’s doing.
David Bush on the US Open
“What is the whole point of the policy in the first place? How come a 1% of the population who have a preventable disease can avoid it being shared between the other 99% and get to enjoy the experience with their family?”
Bush’s 10-year-old son Luke was vaccinated for the first time this year, but is not immune to measles.
The Australian Open’s chief medical officer, Geoff Freeman, believes the move has an altruistic intention.
But he was quick to point out that not all players will have been vaccinated against measles.
“We have some players who have never been vaccinated and some who haven’t had a single vaccine, never to be repeated, and we all know that many, many sportspeople don’t get vaccinated.
“How many will be prevented from the opportunity to come? That is what we’re trying to account for.”
Freeman was questioned whether the move would hamper players’ health by parents who were not previously able to bring their children to the tournament.
But he said it would in fact make it easier.
“A year or so ago there was an old rule that if a competitor had arrived here at the tournament without a valid vaccination then it was illegal for them to come on court and play.
“We’ve now dropped that rule, so we’ve removed that policy.”
Australian Center for International Sport, Arts and Education President Jenny Stillman echoed Bush’s concerns.
“I think we need to look at how effective and truly adapted this rule is — my initial reaction is, they should really revisit this rule because I think it’s very difficult to implement.
“The Australian Open is a social event, people go there to socialize and these are wealthy, really successful people. It’s just so easy for them to bring their own toddlers.
“It’s really not a functional policy because you are putting a block on people coming and supporting their child’s sport.
“The one thing I really question is whether this really serves any sort of altruistic purpose or really just serves as a means for sport to discriminate against people who don’t want to be immunized.”
Stillman believes it would be preferable to look at alternative venues for the tournament, such as Melbourne Park, which recently completed a $100 million renovation.
“If you could have at least looked at going somewhere in Brisbane then maybe the whole situation could have been avoided.”
But George Booe, co-chairman of the Australian Open, said it will maintain “the integrity of the site,” saying: “There is a ban in place and I think that it is clear that it will be in place until such time as a vaccine becomes available.”
Booe made the comments after releasing a statement on Friday which praised the decision by WHO.
He added: “Our approach to this matter is founded on our values. We are truly passionate about promoting and supporting sport, entertainment and culture for all and I encourage people from all walks of life to enjoy this wonderful event.”
He added: “Every year we are working closely with government departments to ensure that we carry out our role to ensure that all the services we provide at the tennis center are safe for all to enjoy.”