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Wimbledon Cancelled As Britain Tries To Cope With Lockdown

By Alix Ramsay

Since the All England Club was founded in 1868, only twice has it been prevented from holding its annual championships – and both times it was because of a world war. That has changed this year.

On Wednesday, the AELTC announced that The Championships 2020 was to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The news was hardly a surprise – all sport has been cancelled in Britain and pretty much everywhere around the world – but it was depressing nonetheless.

It also means that the whole of the grass court season leading into Wimbledon has been cancelled. No tennis until July 13 at the very earliest. But don’t hold your breath.

As Britain gets used to life in lockdown, everyone is looking to the day when the crisis will be over and things will get back to normal. Hey, everyone needs something to look forward to. The thought, then, that an event that was due to start more than 12 weeks from now was being binned just rammed home the message that the world’s life will remain in limbo for a long, long time to come.

The statement from the AELTC spelled it out: “With the likelihood that the Government’s measures will continue for many months, it is our view that we must act responsibly to protect the large numbers of people required to prepare The Championships from being at risk – from the training of ball boys and girls to thousands of officials, line judges, stewards, players, suppliers, media and contractors who convene on the AELTC Grounds – and equally to consider that the people, supplies and services legally required to stage The Championships would not be available at any point this summer, thus ruling out postponement.

“Following a series of detailed deliberations on all of the above, it is the Committee of Management’s view that cancellation of The Championships is the best decision in the interests of public health, and that being able to provide certainty by taking this decision now, rather than in several weeks, is important for everyone involved in tennis and The Championships.

“Members of the public who have paid for tickets in the Wimbledon Public Ballot for this year’s Championships will have their tickets refunded and will be offered the chance to purchase tickets for the same day and court for The Championships 2021. We will be communicating directly with all ticket-holders.”

Wimbledon waited as long as they could but if The Championships were to go ahead, the club needed to mobilise the armies of crew and staff the get everything done. It was not just the business of “social distancing” while trying to prepare the site, it was the simple business of getting to the All England Club. No one is allowed to go anywhere in the UK at the moment, not unless it is an “essential” journey.

All non-essential businesses have been put into mothballs; everyone has been told to work from home if it is at all possible and, other than those who simply cannot work from home and are deemed to be “key workers”, no one is to leave their home unless it is for a medical reason or to help a vulnerable person. Shopping for “essentials” is allowed within reason as is one spell per day in the fresh air to get a bit of exercise. Other than that, stay put and mix with no one.

There was no way Wimbledon could operate in such an environment – a tennis tournament, however prestigious, can hardly be described as “essential” – and for weeks it has been a case of “when” rather than “if” the club would cancel The Championships.

The only slight positive note to take from this sorry tale is that those who won the Wimbledon lottery and secured tickets in the ballot will be able to buy those very same tickets again next year. That will come as some shred of hope for a friend of a friend.

Said friend of a friend was, he thought, on the trip of a lifetime. He and another pal were travelling around the world and spending months on the road to see the places they had only dreamed of. Then they landed in Bali just as the east Asian countries (and others) were shutting their borders.

They were now not just in Bali; they were stranded in Bali. As he desperately emailed home for any help or advice as to how to get home, he hung on to the thought that, for the first time in his life, he had managed to land tickets to Wimbledon in the ballot. If he could just get back, all would be well. And then the rumours started about the tournament being cancelled. If life had looked bleak before, now it just looked utterly bloody miserable.

Fortunately, our friend and his pal are now back home in Blighty – cue fanfares and hurrahs from all who know them – and, like everyone else, they can start planning their trip to Wimbledon next summer.

To find out more about how you can either claim a refund for this year’s tickets or rebook your 2020 tickets for next year, go to wimbledon.com. The full statement regarding the cancellation of this year’s event is published there and, within that statement, there is a link to ‘frequently asked questions’. The link will give you everything you need to know – including who to contact – regarding reticketing and refunds for ballot tickets, debentures, corporate hospitality and more.

Wimbledon, like many sporting organisations, is doing its bit to help with the crisis. They have offered their club premises to the National Health Service; they are helping with food distribution and they doing likewise with medical supplies. They are not alone.

New Balance and Lacoste are now turning over their shoe manufacturing network to the making of masks while Formula 1 are turning their attention to respirators.

Many of the F1 teams are based in the UK; the UK’s NHS is desperately short of respirators, or will be if the expected surge of severe Covid-19 cases needing hospital treatment becomes a reality.

The technical wizards of F1, those men and women who can rebuild a car in a heartbeat, redesign a car in hours and do in seconds what it would take your local garage to do in a week, are working on ways to churn out respirators like rabbits churn out rabbitlets (yes, we know that is not what baby rabbits are called, but work with us here).

Meanwhile football clubs are, like the AELTC, offering their premises to the NHS. They have lots of space sitting empty while we are in lockdown so they are trying to do their bit to help. Some are offering transport to get key workers to their place of work; others are getting their furloughed players to call the elderly and vulnerable to see if they need help. This is the good side of society as we plough through the crisis.

However, humanity’s inner pillock will always rise to the fore in moments like this.

In the UK, the police have been given extra powers (hopefully only for the next few weeks) to ensure that we all do as we are told. Unfortunately, the diktat from the government is a bit vague; it’s more advice, really. For those of you from the UK, think of Sgt. Wilson in Dad’s Army. For those of you not from the UK, look on YouTube for Sgt. Wilson from Dad’s Army.

Instead of a rule that screams “Stay indoors, you ‘orrible little people, until we tell you otherwise” we have the Sgt. Wilson approach: “Would you mind awfully staying at home unless you absolutely have to go out? Thanks awfully.”

As a Brit in Blighty, I’m all for the Sgt. Wilson approach but some police forces around the country have gone overboard. Some are doing random checks on drivers: “Where are you going and why? Can you prove that you are going to the shops for vital supplies?” My friends and I have elderly parents and we always make sure that we have comestibles with us as we visit them (while observing social distancing protocols, obvs) just in case we are pulled over. “No, officer, I’m just taking supplies to my aged mum/dad/great uncle/older person who needs help and attention.”

Other police peeps are checking people’s shopping bags: “Is that an essential item, madam? I see no frozen pizzas or oven chips. And what, exactly is this alongside the fresh coriander, choi sum and Easter eggs? Call that essential?” “Oh, Mavis, I was mortified. There he was, a complete stranger, waving my mooli all around Sainsbury’s car park. I could have cried….”

The Easter egg story is scarily true: someone was stopped and questioned about their trip to the shop when they were bringing home chocolate goodies for their kids. Easter is 12 days away. Kids don’t understand Covid-19, lockdown or global pandemic. And they are cooped up at home – some, like my neighbour’s kids, in a small flat – so choccy Easter eggs and bunnies are important because….well, because it will soon be Easter and the kids need a bit of a treat.

Then there was the crackingly stupid tale of the bloke who was taking his dog to a field five minutes from his house for a bit of – legal – exercise for both man and dog. The field belonged to the bloke; no one else was allowed into the field but the bloke and his dog. No worries with social distancing there. But he was stopped by PC Plod and told to return home because his journey from home “was not necessary”. Try telling that to his Labrador.

So, Wimbledon is cancelled. There is no tennis until the middle of July – but looking at how the US is being affected by the virus, the US Open Series and the US Open are surely soon to go – yet we still have stories to report of decent people doing decent things (apart from some of our over-zealous Plods).

Our health and care workers around the world are proving themselves to be superheroes. So – author’s message here – do like you are told: #staythef**kindoors.

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