Playing Australian Open In Extreme Heat Shows No Respect For People

Posted on January 16, 2014 | in Respect For People, Safety, Sports | by
Frank Dancevic Australian Open Heat

Tennis player Frank Dancevic gets medical attention after passing out at the Australian Open. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

So when it’s winter here in the states, it’s summer in Australia and right now it’s the peak of summer heat in Melbourne, where the Australian Open is playing. It’s hot – a high of 116F on Tuesday and, 103F on Wednesday, and a high of 107F today. So hot, in fact, tennis players are not only complaining about the heat but they are certainly struggling through it to the point of passing out and overheating.

One player fainted midmatch as temperatures topped 108 degrees Fahrenheit at the Australian Open on Tuesday. Others said it felt like they were playing tennis in a sauna, or on a frying pan that sizzled their soles.

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Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic said he started feeling dizzy in the first set of his match against Benoit Paire and then collapsed in the next set.

“I couldn’t keep my balance anymore and I leaned over the fence, and when I woke up people were all around me,” he said. After receiving medical attention, he returned to the match and lost in straight sets.

“It’s hazardous to be out there. It’s dangerous,” Dancevic said, criticizing the tournament for not having suspended play. “Until somebody dies, they’re just going to keep playing matches in this heat.”

It’s bad enough that the Australian Open is scheduled to be played at the peak of the summer season in Melbourne – check out this graphic showing the historical averages (courtesy of Accuweather.com) of highs peaking during this time – but that officials at the Australian Open were reluctant to institute measures right away that would protect the players. From Sports Illustrated:

We got our first indication on Monday, when the tournament referee and tournament doctor sat in a press conference and projected a strange indifference to the weather forecast and the resulting conditions.

Here’s the tournament doctor, Tim Wood: “Tennis, as a sport, is relatively low risk for major heat problems compared to… continuous running events. So you’re more likely to get into trouble in these events, in a 10K road race, than you are in a tennis match. As you can appreciate, the players, the time the ball is in play, in total time for the match is relatively small. The amount of heat they produce from muscles exercising is relatively small in terms of what someone continuously exercising will do. They sit down every five to ten minutes for every 90 seconds at change of ends, so there is chance to lose some heat at that time. Tennis by and large is a low risk sport, and that’s why by and large, like cricket, we can play in these conditions and not be too concerned.”

What the Australian Open DOES have is an extreme heat policy but the organizers were not inclined to implement it (as seen in Mr. Wood’s statement).

Organizers of the grand slam event said Thursday that they had introduced an “extreme heat policy” after temperatures rose above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

That means that matches already under way on court will be suspended at the end of the set being played.

The organizers said the roofs would be closed at the Rod Laver Arena and the Hisense Arena so that players could continue their matches on those courts.

So the players are physically suffering due to the weather, the Australian Open has protocols in place to take care of the players if conditions were untenable…and they refused to implement them on Day 1??

This is an example of leaders not listening to the serious complaints from those who are forced to suffer from the decisions made by those leaders. It’s understandable to want to stick to a schedule so as not to inconvenience spectators (who, by the way, were staying away themselves because of the heat), but it’s also ignorant to not take care of those who are delivering the product or experience that the spectators are paying to see.

Fortunately, the organizers took the high road and implemented the policy by postponing matches (for the first time since 2009) until the weather was more suitable for playing.

Still, this is a failure in following the Lean pillar of “respect for people” – it’s an application of human suffering at the hands of the organizers that fortunately has not had any dire consequences for the players (that we know of so far).

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