There is a chance the tournament will be delayed, although conditions are expected to ease before the start on January 20, the Guardian reported.
Smoke drifting across from Tasmania has mixed with continued pollution from fires in rural Victoria, and the air quality index that put Canberra on 568 on Friday – way in front of known pollution black spots in Asia – broke through the 200 barrier in Melbourne on Monday evening, which places the Victorian capital in fourth place behind Delhi and Lahore, and in front of Shenyang.
Seven-time champion and Australian Open favorite Novak Djokovic – who suffered respiratory problems early in his career – said at the weekend in his capacity as president of the ATP players’ council that air pollution at the Melbourne site would have to be closely monitored, and did not rule out discussing a delay to the tournament if players’ health was going to be compromised.
On Monday, those concerns were given substance in statements from emergency services and the tournament organizer.
“We know it’s a threat to life for some people,” Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr. Brett Sutton, said.
The State’s Environmental Protection Agency chief environmental scientist, Dr. Andrea Hinwood, said, “We’re not expecting [air classification of very poor to hazardous] to change until Wednesday. We might see some light relief tomorrow, but we might not.” She said overnight rain had, “done almost nothing” to alleviate conditions. “Drenching rain would be terrific because it would knock it out. But the current amount is insufficient and there’s too much smoke.”
Craig Tiley, the chief executive officer of Tennis Australia, is optimistic the tournament will go ahead, but said air quality will be closely monitored.
“We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events [having cancelled a Challenger in Canberra],” Tiley said.
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyze all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
“The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind. The smoke has proven intermittently problematic in some areas. The worst affected so far has been in Canberra and after consultation with medical, air and weather experts we made a decision to move our event to Bendigo.”