With the new $ 55 million retractable roof over the empty Court Philippe Chatrier – where red clay has turned orange-brown, white streaks have faded and there is no net – the main stadium of the Open France was transformed into a much more imposing and modern facility.
But with no spectators clapping and screaming on Wednesday, it felt like standing inside a silent and empty spaceship. The site is without fans this week: the Grand Slam tournament was postponed until September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When – and if – the French Open is held this year, however, it is possible that it will be done with zero or very few spectators, in an event that broke records of attendance last year, with 520,000.
Limiting the number of spectators allowed each day of the two-week tournament could improve social distancing.
“Of course, we can have fewer people, so the flow is easier,” the director general of the French tennis federation, Jean-François Vilotte, told The Associated Press on Wednesday when 10 members of the press were able to visit Chatrier . “The options range from a very small reduction in the number of viewers to various levels of viewers.”
Or no viewer.
That, Vilotte says, would be the last resort.
“We are weighing all the options. But obviously we prefer not to play behind closed doors. We want there to be spectators here, fans who respect the precautionary measures, ”said Vilotte. “I have spent a lot of work to understand why restaurants and shops can reopen, but we cannot at large events like ours.”
The French Federation, of course, faces significant revenue losses – from tickets, hotels, food and drink, merchandise – if spectators are not allowed. As it stands, refunds have already been offered for those who purchased tickets to the original tournament dates – May 24-June 7.
Vilotte did not say what the cost of not having spectators would be.
“It is too early to know those things,” he said.
Something key if spectators are allowed: How to decide which rules apply in a 17 arena tournament?
“It is not a soccer stadium. It is not a single locality. There are numerous courts, “said Vilotte. “How do we organize ourselves in terms of flow control?”