Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War Two because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament was due to be played between 29 June and 12 July. The entire grass-court season has been abandoned, and there will be no professional tennis anywhere in the world until at least 13 July. Wimbledon is the latest major summer sporting event to be called off, with Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics postponed for 12 months. It follows the postponement of the French Open, which was due to begin in May but has been rescheduled to 20 September-4 October.
The All England Club did not need to make a decision before the end of April, but the writing has been on the wall for some time. That is when on-site preparations would have had to begin in earnest: a forlorn hope given the current restrictions in place in the UK. As was the thought that by the end of June, 40,000 people would be able to take their seats in packed stands, and jostle for the best vantage point in the narrow walkways bordering the outside courts. The government’s advice that large gatherings should not take place is aimed, in no small part, at relieving the pressure on the emergency services, which would otherwise be in attendance. It is undeniably optimistic to assume the demands on the health service will have returned to normal levels by mid-summer.
Swift cancellation should help reduce any losses that Wimbledon, and the LTA’s series of grass-court events, might incur – but there is also the issue of perception. The All England Club would not want to be seen to be pushing ahead with a sporting event as the death toll continues to rise and the country remains in the grip of the pandemic. Sticking resolutely to a place on the calendar, only to cancel abruptly, or postponing by a few weeks before having to concede defeat, is messy. It is not the way Wimbledon does things. Better, instead, to face facts and plan to return with a flourish in 2021.