It has been a tough road for sports ever since coronavirus pandemic halted all the tournaments since March. While federations have been busy coming up with the required safety protocols, only European football among the major sports has returned to action. Cricket is expected to resume next month.
The sports world was rocked on Tuesday after the highest-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic contracted coronavirus. Djokovic became the fourth player to test positive after Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, and Viktor Troicki - all of whom participated in the Adria Tour, an exhibition tennis tournament organised by Djokovic featuring some of the top players in the world.
The event was played in Serbia and Croatia before its final leg in Bosnia was called off. It witnessed some of the top players in the world – including Djokovic (and his wife Jelena), Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki (and his eight months pregnant wife) and Borna Coric along with two members of the coaching staff, all of whom tested positive for COVID-19.
When the world has been preaching "wearing masks and maintaining social distancing will be the new normal", the Adria tournament saw everything opposite to that. After not witnessing sports for more than two months, thousands of spectators flocked the stadium when the charity matches comprising of popular figures such as Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, and Dimitrov were played, starting from June 13.
The tournament that was arranged with good intentions but turned out to be ill-fated after Djokovic and co. tested positive for COVID-19. Several videos from the Adria tour have surfaced on the internet that shows minimum social distancing measures. During the games, players hugged and fist-bumped each other and played basketball together during non-match days. The stadiums were packed with fans. There was a kids' day as part of the tournament.
Djokovic's leadership is being slammed left right and centre, especially after videos emerged where his teammates were seen partying at a night club in Belgrade as though COVID-19 was a long-forgotten history.
In an interview, Djokovic apologised to everyone for the situation that had come up because of his charity tournament: "I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope that it will not complicate anyone's health situation."
He also mentioned that the event was given the go-ahead when the virus had weakened and has been slammed for organising it in these trying times when nothing else can be prioritised than each other's safety. Djokovic has been a public figure for over a decade now. Not just the fans but there are several players, who also look up to the World No.1 as a role model.
Djokovic, who is also the head of the ATP Player Council, will forever regret his actions at the Adria event that showed he had given little importance to his image of being a leader in the sport. The seemingly reckless decision led to outrageous reactions.
Australian tennis ace Nick Kyrgios, who is usually under the radar for his on or off-court antics, has called Djokovic's decision to go ahead with the tournament "bone-headed".
Yuki Bhambri disappointed
Speaking to Sakal Times in an interview, Indian tennis player Yuki Bhambri has termed Djokovic's decision as "stupid" even if it was done with good intent.
When asked if people's perspective towards Djokovic will change in the coming weeks, Bhambri said, "I don't think people's perspective towards Djokovic is really going to change that much. People are still going to come to watch him, buy tickets for his matches and cheer him on" before adding "But, I do believe that it was a bit foolhardy to have so many people come out and watch knowing the virus is still not over."
Bhambri, who was India's first singles winner at the Junior Australian Open, also went on to suggest that Djokovic and co. should have handled the situation in a better way.
"Yeah, it was a bit stupid decision. But, then the intention behind the tournament was good. They surely could have done a much better job," he said.
Meanwhile, the ATP has announced the tour's return in August. The 2020 season is expected to restart with on August 14 with Washington DC's Citi Open ahead of the US Open, while the WTA will begin again on August 3.
Following the Grand Slam in New York, the tour will swiftly move to Europe where a mini clay court season has been arranged, beginning in Madrid (September 13) and Rome (September 20) before Roland Garros in September after it was postponed from May-June due to the outbreak.
Even if tournaments such as the US Open will be staged without spectators and will not have the qualifying rounds, tennis' return in less than two months looks risky.
"ATP's decision has both pros and cons. I think they could have done a better job dealing with the whole thing. I don't think it's safe enough yet to, first of all, allow travel and let alone the organise matches. No matter how much testing will be done, there will be a lot of people, and that's a big risk not worth taking.
"But then looking at the financial point of view, you know they need the money and provide opportunities to a lot of tennis players to go earn some money," Bhambri, who will not be playing in the US Open because of his rank outside top 100, explained.
While the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Simona Halep have expressed little desire to return to tennis any time soon, Djokovic did not set the best example by inviting his tennis friends, mostly all young ones to a tournament amid the global coronavirus crisis. The organisers can perhaps take a cue from this and not put the players at similar risks.
(Sakshi Gupta is a sports journalist and travel writer. More than a sport, it's sportspersons who have kept her engaged in work. She tweets at @sakshi2929.)