The Australian Open for tennis has happened every year since it's inception back in 1905. And it's just like any other sporting event in the sense that headlines typically read very generic: So and so wins big. Upset in the making. Underdog prevails! The streak continues.. and so on and so forth. But this year, that's not really where the story was at. A much more interesting thing occurred: a record heat wave. It was extremely hot for a majority of the tournament.
The Melbourne area, where the games take place, experienced the longest and toughest heat wave that location has seen in the last 100 years. Temperatures stayed at a dangerous 100+ degrees Fahrenheit for a 4 day stretch of the event, which is essentially 80% of the game play. The highest recorded temperature got up to 110 degrees! Local newspapers
from Melbourne reported 243 people having to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion. Some players actually passed out. Some wore ice chest packs. Sneakers literally melted to the ground, in a few cases.
The extreme heat wave and miserable conditions aren't the end of this story though. I think these two quotes
will give a sense at where I'm going with the rest of this.
The first one is from Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic:
“I was dizzy from the middle of the first set, and then I saw Snoopy and I thought, ‘Wow, Snoopy, that’s weird.'
One word: hallucination. Do you know how hot your internal temperature has to be for your brain to produce hallucinations?!?
The second comes from Dr. Tim Wood, the tournament’s chief medical officer, to the BBC:
“We’ve evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions.
Two words: ridiculous rationale.
I think the juxtaposition of these quotes, one from a player and the other from a medical doctor employed by the game makers, illustrate an interesting fact about motive here. The participants were willing to push themselves to the point of hallucination just to compete, while the staff in charge of making sure the players stay safe were willing to push logic to the extreme to justify keeping the games going on schedule.
Have you ever played tennis? It's easily one of the most cardio-intensive activities one can engage in, especially if you play it well and follow all the rules. Even just watching a full match played by professionals is exhausting. The motivation for the players to suffer through such a heat wave is clear enough; they want to win. Money is on the line. They are already used to playing in the heat, as its not news in itself that a tennis match was played in high heat. They are competitive by nature and believe they have trained and conditioned accordingly.
The motivation for the people in charge of the event is less clear though. Why not postpone the games? Why not close the roof at least (which they did not do)? Why not acknowledge the heat wave as what it was as opposed to making it sound like the players just need to basically suck it up? My guess is that it comes down to money. Postponing a televised event is costly, if not impossible in some cases. Not too mention all the people who flew out to Australia would have to be stuck there for TBD; that's always annoying...
At some point though, player's safety has to reign supreme in decision making. And, in the case of the 2014 Australian Open, sadly it seems that other motivations and logic prevailed. While some matches were actually postponed for a few hours here and there, the tournament finished on Saturday, just like they originally had planned for. Had safety taken a larger influence, this tournament would have been delayed for days.