Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The latest major sporting event to fall to Coronavirus? Analysing the potential impact of cancelling Wimbledon 2020

Posted on 27 March 2020 by Callum Room

By Callum Room & Danny Clark 

The All England Club board have scheduled an emergency meeting next week following the coronavirus pandemic. A decision to cancel this year’s Wimbledon will, unfortunately, be the likely outcome.

Uncertainty around the event, which is scheduled to take place between 29 June – 12 July, has gathered momentum following the postponement of the French Open to September later this year. 

While playing the tournament behind closed doors has formally been ruled out, a decision to cancel Wimbledon outright is not without significant risk and difficulty. 

However, with the Covid-19 crisis showing no sign of slowing down, the All England Club must be conclusive with its decision.

Cancelling the tournament would undoubtedly have a substantial effect on many people. We take a look at some of the most impactful consequences. 

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Financial Impact

The tournament will make the decision from a position of financial strength. The prospect of playing the Championships behind closed doors was dismissed due to this financial stability, as well as a strong reluctance to prevent tarnishing its reputation by staging the iconic event without fans. In addition, those who have already purchased tickets in advance are likely to be reimbursed given the thorough insurance policies that Wimbledon have taken out. 

However, the damaging financial impact that cancelling the tournament could have on media outlets remains to be seen. The BBC shell out an alleged $72 million in television rights for the Championship. With the tournament under considerable threat, they could be set to face a two week ‘black hole’, losing an immeasurable amount of money as a result. Tabloids would also be stripped of their annual two week Wimbledon and celebrity spotting fix. 

Most importantly, British tennis and grass-roots tennis across the UK would suffer. For example, in the 2017-18 fiscal year, it was reported that Wimbledon generated a total of $336 million with a substantial pre-tax profit of $52 million. An astonishing 90% of that was then put back into British tennis. There’s no doubt that if this year’s Championships are cancelled, British tennis will take a substantial financial hit. 

Lowly ranked British players/Wildcards

For a lot of young British players, a wildcard into the first round of SW19 is their first – and sometimes only – chance of competing in a grand slam. This also carries huge financial weight, with prize money for a first-round appearance at the 2019 tournament worth £45,000. This lucrative payday is money which many young and lower-ranked players rely on in order to help fund their travel throughout the season. 

In the past five years, the best results to have been claimed by a British wildcard were a pair of runs to the third round by Heather Watson in 2017 and James Ward back in 2015. Those performances remain the furthest the two have progressed in any grand slam throughout their careers. 

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Charitable impact 

The ticket resale scheme that Wimbledon operates each year raises a huge amount of money for the Wimbledon Foundation. Since 1954, money raised from returned tickets has been donated to charity, with unwanted tickets recycled so that those who missed out on tickets in the ballot are able to watch their favourite players on Centre Court and Court One. 

In 2019, the Championships raised an amazing £214,093 through the ticket resale scheme, with the total amount donated to Foundation totalling £384,000 after donations from the Official Supplier HSBC. Whilst it makes sense to cancel the Championships to help in the fight against the COVID-19, the impact it will have on the charities that are supported is enormous. 

The Wimbledon Foundation uses the donations from the Championships to help change people’s lives by supporting the local community, supporting healthy and active lives and helping to develop young people by creating opportunities to learn skills for life. 

Ball Boys/ Ball Girls 

The Championships represent months of hard work for many of the Ball Boys and Ball Girls who work throughout the two-week tournament. First introduced in the 1920s, the Ball Boys and Ball Girls, are deeply entwined within Wimbledon’s history. Often called the BBGs, they are handpicked students from years 9 and 10 from a number of local schools which are situated close to the Championships. 

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Each year around 700 students apply for the prestigious position undergoing rigorous testing including a written test, a skills test showing coordination and throwing ability and a standing still test. With growing pressure for the Championships to be called off due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it would mean that the 250 BBGs would no longer get the honour to work at the Championships. For some, it would be incredibly upsetting as they may be too old by the time the next Championships come around. 

Fans perspective

For a sports fan, the Wimbledon fortnight is up there with the pinnacle of the sporting calendar. Whether it’s watching the matches first hand on Centre Court or watching at home with a jug of Pimms it promises entertainment. Wimbledon is a deeply embedded event in not only the sporting calendar but the British summer, with it often being referred to as the ‘hallmark of summer.’ Famous for its strawberries and cream, Wimbledon fans from around the globe flock to SW19 to cast their eyes on the tour’s best. 

With Wimbledon currently being one of the few major sporting events going ahead following the postponement of the Olympics, the European Football Championships, fans and professionals alike will hope it stays that way. However, this is looking ever the more unlikely. 

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