April 23, 2021

Wimbledon is focusing on limited fans plan for this year, with hints of a ‘super site’

4 min read

Local communities around Wimbledon have been told to prepare for the likelihood of a reduced capacity Championships this year, along with road closures that could prove controversial.

A message to various residents’ associations and local councillors – seen by Sportsmail – has confirmed the tournament will, barring unforeseen developments, go ahead in some form this summer.

Yet in order to handle the prevailing Covid-19 situation there will need to be extra traffic measures, and the likelihood only a percentage of the normal crowds will be allowed in.

Wimbledon are considering a full and partial capacity tournament plus behind closed doors

Wimbledon are considering a full and partial capacity tournament plus behind closed doors

It comes after the Australian Open, which begins a week on Monday, announced on Saturday it will operate at close to 50 per cent capacity this year, with 25-30,000 spectators permitted on most days.

The All England Club has the luxury of being able to wait for at least two more months before decisions are made on how many can attend The Championships, which begin on June 28.

It is acknowledged nothing can yet be entirely clear, but a range of outcomes are being looked at.

The letter says: ‘Our scenarios fall into three broad categories: a full capacity Championships a, a reduced capacity Championships, and a ‘behind closed doors’ Championships.

The traditional 'Wimbledon Queue' will almost certainly not take place due to social distancing

The traditional ‘Wimbledon Queue’ will almost certainly not take place due to social distancing

The famous SW19 site may be greatly expanded into a super venue with more tennis courts

The famous SW19 site may be greatly expanded into a super venue with more tennis courts

‘Most of our planning focus is currently centred on the option of a reduced capacity Championships and how that would affect each stakeholder group, but we are not yet in a position to rule out any of the other scenarios.’

There is the admission ‘the Wimbledon fortnight will likely look very different this year.’

It looks certain there will be no traditional queue in 2021, with the emphasis on social distancing and managing crowds safely.

Part of that will involve a planning request going in to close off 750 metres of Church Road that divides the main site from the Wimbledon Park golf course that it fully acquired in late 2018.

If the application is successful, only emergency and access vehicles will be allowed along it for the duration of the tournament.

Australian Open organisers state the tournament is operating at about 50 per cent capacity

Australian Open organisers state the tournament is operating at about 50 per cent capacity

While Wimbledon has skilfully managed relations with its local community in its redevelopment so far, this may prove its biggest challenge. The closures will necessitate diversions and there will be knock-on effects elsewhere locally.

Significantly, it may also be the precursor to future plans connected to the development work to expand the tournament site onto the golf course in the next few years.

While the All England has always emphasised there will be little in the way of any permanent new structures on the land – reports of hotels and the like were always wide of the mark – the goal is to build a large amount of new tennis courts on the northerly section of the course, perhaps around 20.

The aim is to be able, by 2024, to stage the qualifying event ‘on site’ as happens at the other three Grand Slam events in tennis. It is presently held at Roehampton two miles away.

How the existing site and the new areas connect has been a major ongoing topic for the architects and planners to consider.

Pre-Australian Open tournaments are being squeezed into seven days at just one venue

Pre-Australian Open tournaments are being squeezed into seven days at just one venue

While the building of costly tunnels has been looked at, one option is the pedestrianisation of Church Road each summer for the event’s duration. Something similar was enacted for the 2012 Olympics.

An added complication is that many trees on the new land are protected, and the club is committed to preserve them.

How many spectators will be allowed in at Wimbledon for this exceptional year will be a matter for wider government policy relating to sporting events, depending on progress in tackling the pandemic.

There is said to be ‘cautious optimism’ at the All England that perhaps at least 10,000 spectators could be permitted daily for Wimbledon this summer, although the truth is nobody can know yet.

What does appear likely is there will need to be some kind of further balloting arrangements taking place among those who have tickets from 2020, in order to comply with government guidelines.

Such strictures are hardly restricted to Wimbledon, and it is an issue all sports event organisers are having to grapple with due to the uncertainties of Covid-19.

The European outdoor tennis begins in April, and all tournaments are going through a comparable process.

‘At this point everyone is planning on going ahead, but it is a question of how many stands you might need to build and how many fans will be allowed in, from zero upwards,’ one Tournament Director told Sportsmail.

Australia revealed its crowd plans on Saturday as the first of this week’s six pre-Open events got underway at Melbourne Park, with the vast majority of players out of their two-week quarantine.

The complex will be divided into three separately-ticketed zones taking in one of its three stadiums with roofs each, the principle being to minimise flow around the grounds. 

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