MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Open qualifying was disrupted for a second successive day due to poor air quality on Wednesday as smoke from bushfires continued to blanket Melbourne in an acrid haze.
Organizers of the year’s first Grand Slam said practice had been suspended at Melbourne Park until 11 a.m. (0000 GMT) and qualifiers would not get underway until 1 p.m.
Australia is experiencing one of its worst bushfire seasons on record, with fires burning for months and claiming the lives of 28 people, destroying more than 2,500 homes and razing forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria.
Qualifying was delayed for more than an hour on Tuesday but organizers were criticized for allowing it to resume, with Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic forced to retire after suffering a coughing fit during her match.
“Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria,” governing body Tennis Australia said in a statement on Wednesday.
Play and practice at regional tournaments in Traralgon and Bendigo, along with a junior event at Royal Park in Melbourne, had also been suspended, it added.
Scheduled horse race meetings in two separate Melbourne suburbs were also canceled on Wednesday, governing body Racing Victoria said, “due to smoke haze and poor air quality”.
Races in Melbourne’s western suburb of Werribee were scrapped a day earlier.
Air quality is expected to improve later on Wednesday when rain showers are forecast but the weather is likely to cause more delays to the Australian Open schedule, creating further headaches for organizers.
Bushfire smoke has affected a number of elite sporting competitions involving soccer, rugby league and cricket, and the pollution has raised fears for player safety at Melbourne Park, with the tournament starting on Monday.
While TA has said they were consulting experts, Victoria state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the governing body should establish a proper air quality policy along with its existing extreme heat policy to determine whether conditions are fit for play.
“They do have a heat policy, I think they need to plan out an air quality policy in the same way,” he told local media.
“We’re all trying to work out the best approach and there’s no ‘one size fits all’.
“You can’t have a blanket solution, you need to look at the individual circumstances and what the alternatives are for protecting people.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford