The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) announced on Tuesday that they expect to hold the Wimbledon Championships in 2021 with spectators at 25% capacity.
Wimbledon, the world's oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That marked the first time since World War II that the tournament was canceled.
At the tournament's press briefing on Tuesday, club officials revealed they are preparing to host the 2021 event within the framework of the guidelines currently in place. They did also promise to be flexible in case the government restrictions change.
"Our priority has and will always be to do this safely, with the support and trust of all our stakeholders," Chief Executive Sally Bolton stated. "We are currently working to a spectator capacity position of around 25%, based on the current Sports Grounds Safety Authority guidance, but we will remain flexible as we await the outcome of the government’s Event Research Programme and clarity on the likelihood of restrictions relaxing beyond 21 June."
The pandemic has forced several tournaments to go behind closed doors or be played with limited capacity. That in turn has severely impacted the prize money pools on the professional circuit.
The French Open was held last year with a capacity of only 1,000 spectators, while the US Open was held behind closed doors. Earlier this year, the Australian Open was held with a limit of 30,000 spectators per day (interrupted by a five-day snap lockdown in the middle of the event).
Middle Sunday to become part of Wimbledon schedule starting from 2022
One of the other big announcements coming out of the Wimbledon briefing was that the tournament's Middle Sunday, which has traditionally been a rest day, will be used as part of the tournament schedule from 2022 onwards. With this change, Wimbledon will move from a 13-day event to a 14-day event.
Play has been held on Middle Sunday in the past on only four occasions - 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016. That was largely due to heavy rain during the first week and a high backlog of matches.
Club officials cited improved technology as the reason for the change, stating that the club's courts could now withstand two consecutive weeks of play without a break.
"Thanks to improved grasscourt technology and maintenance over the past five years or so and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest," Chairman Ian Hewitt stated.
"This provides us with the opportunity, at an important time, to enhance the accessibility, reach and fanbase of Wimbledon, and tennis, both in the UK and globally," he added. "It will also ensure greater resilience and fairness of the tournament programme for our competitors, and enable us to create a different kind of atmosphere on the Middle Sunday, with a strong focus on the local community in particular."
The 2021 edition of the Wimbledon Championships is scheduled to begin on 28 June 28 and end on 11 July.