Wimbledon will decide next week whether to go ahead with this year’s championships as planned or cancel them due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement Wednesday, the All England Club suggested cancellation is more likely than postponement, should it decide it can’t hold the event as scheduled between June 29 and July 12.
“The AELTC can confirm that it is continuing a detailed evaluation of all scenarios for The Championships 2020, including postponement and cancellation, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak,” it said in a statement.
“At this time, based on the advice we have received from the public health authorities, the very short window available to us to stage The Championships due to the nature of our surface suggests that postponement is not without significant risk and difficulty. Playing behind closed doors has been formally ruled out.”
A source told ESPN earlier Wednesday that the end of April, eight weeks before the start of the qualifying event, was the likely cutoff for an announcement, but All England Club CEO Richard Lewis said a decision is imminent.
“The unprecedented challenge presented by the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect our way of life in ways that we could not have imagined, and our thoughts are with all those affected in the U.K. and around the world,” he said.
“The single most important consideration is one of public health, and we are determined to act responsibly through the decisions we make. We are working hard to bring certainty to our plans for 2020 and have convened an emergency meeting of the AELTC Main Board for next week, at which a decision will be made.”
Contingency planning began as long ago as January, discussing scenarios including postponement, cancellation, playing behind closed doors or in an altered format.
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 has created a vacant spot on the sports calendar in late July and early August, but Wednesday’s statement hinted that cancellation was the most likely scenario.
Playing behind closed doors was always considered problematic because it would still involve a large number of staff to run the event.
Taking the Olympic slot is also unlikely, amid concerns that the levels of sunlight and dew will not be ideal for the grass, and with fears that government advice might be no more relaxed than it is now.
Ideas about holding the championships with an adjusted format would be weighed against the risk of damaging the standing of the tournament.
Stringent new U.K. government restrictions, which came into force Monday evening, mean the All England Club is now operating with a “practical minimum” of staff.
That includes the head groundsman, Neil Stubley, and a number of other grounds staff, but administration workers and others have been operating from home for the past week.
The ATP and WTA announced the suspension of the men’s and women’s tours until June 7, just three weeks before Wimbledon is due to begin.
The French Open, which had been due to begin on May 24, announced last week that it is moving to Sept. 20-Oct. 4, meaning it will begin one week after the conclusion of the US Open, if that too takes place as scheduled.
Wimbledon said it is “communicating closely with the LTA, and with the ATP, WTA, ITF and the other Grand Slams.”
Wimbledon is insured if the championships are canceled, and though organizers are aware that staging the event on time might give the country a timely boost, in the final analysis, they will adhere to whatever the updated government advice is.