MUMBAI (Reuters) – Players are free to participate in exhibition events while the professional tennis season remains shut due to the novel coronavirus but they must prioritise their health and remain vigilant against corrupt approaches, authorities have said.
Professional tennis came to a halt in March after countries started closing borders and imposed lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, and all events are currently suspended till at least July 13.
The tennis shutdown has left players in the lower tiers who depend solely on tournament winnings without the chance to earn a living.
“Players are self-employed independent contractors and, as such, are free to make decisions concerning their own activities during the time the Tour is suspended,” an ATP spokesman told Reuters on Monday.
Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou said his tennis academy in south of France will host a five-week tournament starting in May that will give players the chance to get back on court during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The German state of Rhineland-Palatinate is also set to host an exhibition event without the presence of fans from May 1, according to The Telegraph newspaper.
Both events said they will comply with local physical distancing requirements and health protocols to ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff onsite.
“We understand that some privately organised exhibition matches may start to take place where and when local government restrictions allow, and these are attractive opportunities for our players to play some competitive matches and earn some income,” the ATP added.
“We also remind players of the need to prioritize health and safety and to follow any applicable governmental and health agency guidelines at this time as well as the applicable provisions of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (TACP).”
While Australian Alexei Popyrin will take on world number 10 David Goffin in the opening match at Mouratoglou’s academy, the event at the Base Tennis Academy near the small town of Hoehr-Grenzhausen will have no players currently ranked in top 100.
The Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain’s Mallorca is also considering turning its campus into a place where elite players can stay, train and compete in matches among themselves that will be televised around the world.
A 2018 International Review Panel report commissioned to address betting and integrity issues said that players in the lowest tiers were susceptible to corruption because of the difficulty in making a living.
The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) reminded the players that they will still be expected to uphold the anti-corruption principles despite the events being not recognised by any governing body.
“We understand that these will be attractive opportunities to many of you eager to play and to earn an income,” the TIU, which is tasked with tackling corruption in the game, said in a statement on its website.
“While the playing opportunities created are welcomed, we must advise you that there may be an elevated risk of corruption and corrupt approaches in some of these environments.”