The devastating bushfires in Australia may take another casualty: the Australian Open. Though the tennis championship tournament started just a week ago, players have voiced their complaints of poor air quality. Though organizers agreed to suspend the tournament should the air quality worsen, officials said that they were optimistic that the smoke particles would not detract from play and air quality would soon get better, according to The New York Times.
Even before the open began, tennis players were already showing their acknowledgment of the fires, which have claimed the lives of 25 people in addition to untold numbers of homes and animals’ lives.
Tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal collaborated for an exhibition at Melbourne Park that helped raise more than $3.5 million for bushfire relief. Other players have pledged money based on their tennis performance — for example, donating a certain amount for every ace or every double fault.
However, despite the charitable efforts of players to help with bushfire relief, it does not negate the fact that some athletes are worried about the potential health risks posed by Melbourne’s air quality.
“You get warnings from the news telling people to stay inside, that it’s not good for your health to be outside, to be breathing this stuff, and then you get an email from the tournament saying that it’s playable and you guys have to go out there and put your life in jeopardy, put your health in jeopardy,” confessed Denis Shapovalov, a Canadian seeded 13th in the tournament.
“If it does get bad, I can’t imagine going out there and everyone going out there and playing three out of five sets,” he added.
Shapovalov is not the only one to worry about the health risks posed by the Australian air.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers several levels that the Australian Open has deemed safe to be “very unhealthy” and suggests limited outdoor activity during such times.
Currently, when smoke levels in the air are between 97 and 200, the Australian Open will continue at the tournament referee’s discretion. However, the EPA has claimed that the upper limit of “good” air quality is substantially lower 12. On Tuesday, the reading peaked at around 165.
“[The particles] are so small they can get right down into the lungs and into the bloodstream and can cause longer-term effects,” explained Kate Charlesworth, a public health physician based in Sydney, of the risks.
However, officials are confident that the air quality will get better as the tournament continues, especially as the bushfires are coming more and more under control.
Though the smoke is currently plaguing Australia, it might soon hit other countries. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, experts have predicted that the smoke is going to circle the globe before returning to down under.