Indian Wells Tournament Called Off Due To Coronavirus

The Tennis Stadium at Indian Wells

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The 2020 BNP Paribas Open, one of the world’s biggest and most significant tennis tournaments, will not be held as scheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Public health officials in California declared a health emergency in Riverside County, which includes the city of Indian Wells, where the tournament was set to begin this week.

The BNP Paribas Open, an annual event held in the scenic California palm desert about 124 miles (199.6 kilometers) east of downtown Los Angeles, is the highest-profile sporting event in the United States to be cancelled because of the outbreak. It is known for its large attendance – more than 450,000 fans attended in 2018 and 2019 – and it’s hefty prize money ($8.7 million for men and $9 million for women).

Word spread Sunday night via social media that the ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier Mandatory events – often dubbed “the fifth Grand Slam” – would not go on as planned, when the tournament’s organizers made the decision to cancel on the eve of Monday’s qualifying and in advance of the main draw’s commencement on Wednesday. The tournament would have run through March 22. The Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells concluded Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the same venue where the BNP Paribas Open is held.

In a statement Sunday evening regarding coronavirus, the BNP Paribas Open website said: “The Riverside County Public Health Department has declared a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley after a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) locally. As a result, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not take place at this time due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event. This is following the guidance of medical professionals, the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), and State of California.

“There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size,” said Dr. David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. “It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak.”

Tournament director Tommy Haas said, “We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance. We are prepared to hold the tournament on another date and will explore options.”

The BNP Paribas Open will offer ticket holders refunds or credits toward tickets for the 2021 tournament.

Steve Simon, CEO and Chairman of the WTA Tour, told The New York Times that officials had considered playing the tournament without spectators at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, but ultimately rejected that option.

“We were supportive of the concept,” Simon told the Times. “But ultimately the tournament didn’t feel it was in their best interest.

“There will be losses for everybody. But at this point this isn’t about the money per se. It’s about what is right, and I think it’s a challenging time right now.”

In a statement on the WTA’s website, Simon also said:

First and foremost, there isn’t anything more important than protecting the health of our players, staff, volunteers and fans who attend our events. Based on the medical advice received on March 8, it is with regret that the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not be held as scheduled this March. The WTA empathizes with those affected by the coronavirus in this region and around the world. We are disappointed our fans will not be able to come out and watch the event, and our players are also disappointed to not compete over the next two weeks, along with the sponsors who support the event. However, we understand the decision which has been made in the interest of public health and safety which is the top priority at this time. It is too soon to speculate about what will happen to other tournaments that follow. We will continue to closely monitor the situation. Health and safety will always come first.”

While players such as Rafael Nadal and Coco Gauff took to social media to express their disappointment in not being able to play, it caught many players by surprise, who were already in Indian Wells practicing for the tournament. Some, like Diego Schwartzman, only learned of the cancellation through Twitter and other social media channels.

Although Haas has left open the possibility of playing the Indian Wells tournament later in the season, the current ATP and WTA schedules are already jammed packed and it would be quite challenging to find another set of dates that could be compatible to stage such a large event. No other tour-level tournaments have announced cancellations. The next tournament on the main ATP and WTA tours is the Miami Open, which is scheduled to begin at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on March 23.