We can’t call athletes “essential workers”

Mishal Charania, Managing Editor

As I was watching Serena Williams end her first set against Anastasia Potapova in the Australian Open, former tennis player John McEnroe flashes onto the screen. He announces, sitting upright and voice steady but slightly panicked, that Victoria, a state in Australia, is going into COVID-19 lockdown procedures for five days. Victoria? Home to Melbourne, the very city hosting the Australian Open. Immediately I assumed that this meant no more Australian Open for a while. Seeing as a continuation presents a huge risk to the people of Victoria as well as the countries the players will return to after the tournament, it should shut down. Unfortunately, this is not the case whatsoever. 

According to ESPN the outbreak began last week but has risen to 13 cases. The outbreak is presumed to be the United Kingdom strain of the variant — a variant that is more efficient at transmitting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Despite the emergence of this information, the Australian Open rallies on. 

Mitigation measures include enforcing mask-wearing at all times when not playing or eating and banning the presence of fans in the stands. For the Grand Slam tournament to continue, the athletes were deemed essential workers. However, it would be better on all fronts if the Australian Open followed the guidelines for the rest of Victoria, aka staying at home. 

“[Sporting events] will function as a workplace but not for entertainment because there will be no crowds,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a Feb. 11 press conference. “I am confident that this short, sharp circuit breaker will be effective. I want to be here next Wednesday announcing that these restrictions are coming off,”

Seeing these announcements from McEnroe dazed me. I could almost feel the steam beginning to pour out of my ears. I was mind-boggled. I understand that Australia is in a very different boat than us; Victoria had a complete lockdown from July 2020 to October. Australia has had an average of six cases in the past seven days, astonishing compared to the 104,559 seven day average within the United States. With 1.3 times the population of Australia, the United States can expect more cases. 

According to ESPN’s report, residents of Victoria can only leave their houses for the following four reasons: to give or receive medical care, to shop for essential goods and services, to work/study or to exercise for a maximum of two hours a day. This restriction will last at least until Wednesday, Feb. 17. Ultimately, Andrews is right. The players are working and they are unable to complete this work from home. However, the Australian Open does not only include the players; the coaches, staff and empires need to be protected as well. Five hundred Australian Open staffers were forced to quarantine just last week because of one positive COVID test. These two outbreaks may be different but they represent the same problem: COVID is still spreading. No matter how much I’d miss the feeling of watching an intense match point by Serena Williams or Dominic Thiem, it is irresponsible to continue.