Tennis players who live more than 5km from their local court have been told to stay away when the sport resumes on Monday.
Under the Government roadmap to ease Covid-19 restrictions, tennis courts, along with golf courses, are permitted to reopen from the beginning of next week.
Tennis Ireland CEO Richard Fahey has asked members not to attend their local court if they live more than 5km away. He also stated that use of courts will be exclusive to club members, doubles matches will not be allowed unless players are from the same household, and clubhouses are to remain shut.
There is an element of trepidation among tennis chiefs at being one of the first sports to resume activity in this country following two months of lockdown. With no example close to home as to what represents a safe and successful return to action, Tennis Ireland have been studying the game’s return in Austria, Australia, and the US, and have incorporated best practices from these countries in the guidelines issued to their 180 clubs and approximately 40,000 members.
“We will certainly be in the spotlight. I have no doubt that next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we will have people poking their eye over the fence and looking into a tennis club to see if people are following the guidelines and maintaining social distancing,” Fahey told the Irish Examiner.
“The Irish public have been fantastic in following recommended behaviours these past couple of months. We can't let all of that sacrifice go to waste in terms of our members not following the protocols. Nobody wants to see in the media that tennis is not following national health policy. Tennis Ireland feels very strongly that we have a responsibility to make sure that our sport, when it does come back, is conducted in a safe and responsible manner and that there is full adherence to national health policy from which our guidelines on return-to-play are based on. It is vital.
“Can you imagine what it would be like if sport had to close down again because either our clubs weren't following protocols or if the level of infection was on the rise again and that was traced back to tennis clubs. It would be a nightmare.”
This concern has influenced their decision to limit court use to club members.
He explained: “One of the big things from the HSE is contact tracing so what we are encouraging all clubs to do in the first phase is ensure it is members-only on their courts because clubs should have contact details for all their members. Bookings for court use should be done online or over the phone. If, for example, a person contracts the virus in a week or fortnight’s time, it is imperative the club is able to identify who that person was playing with and who else was using nearby courts at the same time.
"Most clubs will be busy enough catering for their members in Phase 1 that it might be difficult to have the available space to accommodate visitors. Of course, if people want to join as members, so be it.”
Tennis clubs have been advised to put together a Covid-19 committee before the locks are lifted on May 18. This committee would be responsible for managing Covid-19 related queries from members, updating the contact details of all members, ensuring indoor courts remain off-limits, and checking with their insurer if a policy amendment is required to cover Covid-19 issues.
“Clubhouses should remain shut. The only exception is clubs where you have to go through reception to get to the courts. Toilets should remain closed,” Fahey continued. “We are trying to minimise the risk during this particular phase. I know golf has allowed their toilets to be open, but golf is a four and a half hour round whereas tennis is one hour on court, so we are encouraging people to go to the toilet beforehand, play your game, and then go straight home afterwards.
“We have stated people should live within five kilometres of the club. That's the current Government guideline so we think that should be followed until it is expanded on June 8.” The Tennis Ireland CEO said he is in the process of trying to establish whether or not over-70s are allowed to pick up a racket and deliver a cross-court forehand in the coming weeks.
“The roadmap for reopening society and business, it is vague in some parts. There isn't as much detail as you might like, so from that point of view we are looking to try and get guidance via Sport Ireland and the HSE. We do have a cohort of players that are over-70. I know they are very keen to get back to play. We'd like to get them back as soon as possible, but our guidance is they should not be playing at this stage. That is something we are looking at on a daily basis and if the advice comes back that they can play, then absolutely we will change that guidance.” Fahey said Tennis Ireland’s income will take a hit this year, but he expects it to be more severe in 2021 on account of reduced membership.
“We understand it is a challenging time for clubs and their members, many of whom have been let go from their jobs, many of whom have suffered pay cuts, so it is and will be difficult for them to pay their membership fees.”