Australian Open in chaos as biosecurity manager resigns weeks before tournament

Next year’s Australian Open has been stirred up after it was announced that Tennis Australia’s biosecurity manager Tom McDowell has resigned.

The state of Victoria has some of the strictest Coronavirus measures in the world and McDowell faced the unenviable task of managing protocols for players and staff upon arrival in Australia.

As reported by freelance tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, the exact details of the job are on McDowell’s LinkedIn page.

His responsibilities include: “Overseeing the development of biosecurity protocols for each functional area and providing advice, guidance and instruction to all areas of the business relationship with the operational implementation of Biosecurity.

The job also required McDowell to “lead the development of COVIDSafe procedures for each functional area, guiding and supporting managers in developing and implementing processes that align with the goals of the COVIDSafe plan.” Plus: “Define the scope and requirements for COVID testing and/or vaccination programs to minimize the risk of an outbreak affecting the event.”

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With the first Grand Slam of the new year scheduled to start in a few weeks, McDowell’s resignation could cause major problems for Tennis Australia.

The rules surrounding Melbourne travel are already complicated, with Australian Open officials confirming that some players and staff will receive medical waivers from vaccination to travel to the country before the new season.

Government officials in Victoria had previously said only fully vaccinated players would be able to compete at Melbourne Park, but this meant players like Novak Djokovic would have to miss out.

The world number one has often refused to disclose his vaccination status, but his father confirmed that his son was unlikely to play unless vaccination rules were relaxed.

It’s unclear at this stage why McDowell resigned, but some tennis fans have speculated that disagreements over allowing unvaccinated players to compete may have contributed to the biosecurity manager leaving his position.

One Twitter user wrote: “What an impossible job. I can see why this guy would quit! I’m guessing others wouldn’t cooperate [and] there were internal arguments about: biosecurity measures, and he didn’t feel he could succeed in implementing the necessary biosecurity protocols. Not a good sign for AO [Australian Open.]”

Another suggested a similar line of reasoning as to why McDowell would have resigned: “Think he’s caught between making rules to suit the government and having the AO [Australian Open] and tennis community looking for loopholes as [they] would go wrong, he would carry the can… no, I don’t want that job either.’

The Australian Open’s decision to make exceptions for unvaccinated players comes at a time when the new Omicron Covid variant is beginning to spread rapidly.

Crowd

Six players recently tested positive at an event in Abu Dhabi, including Rafael Nadal, Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic, Andrey Rublev, Dennis Shapavalov and US Open champion Emma Raducanu.

But as of now, the Grand Slam will still go ahead as planned.

Tennis Australia has denied allegations that they are “looking for loopholes” to allow unvaccinated players to participate, saying in a statement they are “not in a position to influence this process and neither are we.”

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