But the disaster is having some other unforeseen repercussions, including at the country’s Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, where air quality has reached hazardous levels.
Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic pulled out of her qualifying match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele on Tuesday after she experienced intense coughing. The match went ahead despite air quality reaching hazardous levels in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne sits.
Video of the moment, as posted by news outlets such as ESPN, shows Jakupovic crouching in the corner of the court and coughing, before leaving the match with officials.
“I was really scared that I would collapse. That’s why I went onto the floor because I couldn’t walk anymore,” said Jakupovic in a post-match press conference, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat … The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”
Practice sessions at the Australian Open had been suspended on Tuesday morning due to poor air quality — Germany’s Alexander Zverev was supposed to be up first, followed by world No. 1 Rafael Nadal — but the tournament’s official Twitter account said that “conditions onsite are improving.” The Australian Open’s Twitter statement said that it would be working with the country’s Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from the state of Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority to determine further decisions “based on onsite data.”
Further decisions will be made based on onsite data, and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.
As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 13, 2020
AFP reports that air pollution was recorded at 20 times that of a safe level in the city on Tuesday. Here’s a look at the last 48 hours in Melbourne’s air quality, as recorded by the EPA’s AirWatch. Yep, it’s not good, ranging mostly from very poor to hazardous.
Nonetheless, qualifying matches were delayed, but had gone ahead on Tuesday. As ABC reports, Jakupovic said in the press conference that taking to the court was “not healthy” for players. “I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don’t have much choice.”
Other players have been affected by the smoke too. Australia’s Bernard Tomic reported struggling to breathe in the conditions during his open-air court qualifier against U.S. player Denis Kudla at the Australian Open. And elsewhere, former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova and German Laura Siegemund called off their match at the Kooyong Classic (an AO lead-up event in Melbourne) due to the smoky conditions on Tuesday.
With bushfires still burning in the state of Victoria, the air quality in Melbourne could remain at these reported moderate to hazardous levels. At the time of writing, the EPA’s AirWatch lists Melbourne’s air quality as poor, and recommends people “avoid being outside in the smoke or dust.”
This is particularly bad news for the Australian Open, due to officially begin on Monday, with qualifiers set to run until Sunday. The event will see some of the world’s top tennis stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Nadal, and Roger Federer, taking to the court — these names will notably appear on Jan. 15 for an exhibition match raising money for bushfire relief efforts. World No. 2 Novak Djokovic already suggested a delay to the start of the Australian Open a week ago, citing the effect smoke could have on players’ health.
As AFP points out, it’s highly unlikely the Australian Open — as one of the four Grand Slam events in the world and one of Australia’s key sporting events — will be cancelled due to high air pollution levels, but this remains to be seen. The head of the Climate Air Quality Research (CARE) Unit at Melbourne’s Monash University, Professor Yuming Guo, suggested matches could be staged only indoors, or that the tournament itself could be delayed as a solution.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told a news conference that players would not be put in harm’s way. “We reiterated with the players that we’re making a decision based on advice, based on expert advice,” he said, as reported by Fox Sports. “We’re not going to put them in harm’s way or make any decision that’s going to negatively impact their health and wellbeing. We have a track record of that when it comes to extreme heat. I think we’re one of the few major events that has to manage extreme heat like we do. But this is a new experience for all of us, how we manage air quality and therefore we’ve got to rely on those experts that advise us on how best to continue.”
It’s not yet clear the long-term health effects of Australia’s bushfire smoke, but the country’s top pollution experts are teaming up to propose a major new study. We’re not expecting great things.