French Open organizers still hope for 5,000 fans each day

The Philippe-Chatrier tennis court at Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (Michel Euler/AP)

PARIS — The French Open may have to reduce the number of fans at Roland Garros from 5,000 to 1,000 for the clay-court tennis tournament.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Wednesday that a new limit of 1,000 people will be imposed at big events in big cities like Paris amid growing coronavirus concerns. But discussions between the Paris police and officials are ongoing as to how this will affect Roland Garros, which begins on Sunday and ends on Oct. 11.

“We’re still hoping to get 5,000 fans. The last we heard officially from the police prefecture was that 5,000 is very, very safe. We are playing the tournament on the size of 15 football (soccer) fields and an outside stadium,” tournament director Guy Forget said Thursday in an online news conference. “We have all the health procedures with the masks and with the gel to clean your hands.

“I’m hoping as the tournament director that the next discussions we’ll have, with the CEO of our federation and with our president and the authorities, will lead us to stay on that path (of 5,000 fans).”

The Tour de France finished last Sunday. During the cycling race’s final days in the mountains, television cameras showed hundreds of fans standing side by side and sometimes very close to the cyclists as they rolled past. Many fans were not wearing masks and others screamed encouragement into the faces of riders as they rode past. But there were no positive COVID-19 tests recorded among the 176 starters or 146 finishers.

Forget was asked if it would be strange for Roland Garros to slash its capacity to 1,000 per day given that Tour, spread over three weeks and with lesser social distancing, saw far higher numbers of fans present yet led to no positive cases.

“There won’t be any interaction between players and fans (and) fans will be protected from each other,” Forget said in English. “I believe we can do a lot better in terms of protection for fans and athletes here in Roland Garros than the Tour de France. Anyway, the Tour de France went really well. It was wonderful to see the way it was handled.”

Forget said it would send out the wrong message to impose further restrictions on Roland Garros after the maximum capacity was gradually reduced from 11,500 to 5,000 last week.

“Every subsequent restriction is another sign that it’s dangerous to come,” Forget said. “(We are) in an outside arena with a lot of space between people, ways for people to get in and out. Every single person will wear a mask, including the ball boys, the linesmen, the chair umpire. Only the players, while they play, will have their face uncovered.”

So far, organizers have announced the virus-caused withdrawals of six players from qualifying, three who tested positive and three in close contact with their coach who tested positive.

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