Any players breaching the Covid-19 protocols at the 149th Open risk disqualification – but R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers seems prepared to be flexible.
The Open takes place at Sandwich this year in obviously odd circumstances. The players and their immediate entourages are in an “inner bubble”. There are 32,000 fans a day expected as sort of guinea pigs for the government’s research into how covid transmission works in the open air.
UK laws and protocols on Covid have given the governing body a whole lot to work around. But it also seems they have been allowed to stretch the regulations here and there. Given the whole of England goes pretty much without restrictions as of Monday, it’s all a bit confusing.
But at the moment, if a player decides he can’t stay away from his favourite Kentish pub – I wouldn’t blame them if it was the one down our way – he risks getting DQ’d.
‘I think the players know the risks’
“If he did, I think he would be at risk of being disqualified, yes,” said Slumbers. “I’ve learnt being in officiating and rules that you want to understand the circumstances, but anyway I don’t think that will be an issue.
“I think players know the risks. They know what will impact. They’re all responsible. They don’t want to put their fellow players at risk.
“We’ve made it very clear (the bubble) is to protect them and their fellow competitors. It’s to give them, all the players, the very best chance of all of them being here on Sunday afternoon and able to play.
“We have the background of the UK law to deal with, so it’s not us creating the rules, it’s the UK law. I expect the players to react and deal with that in a professional, responsible way.
“Every single one I’ve talked to has absolutely understood that and is behaving like that, so thank you to them.”
Being tracked and traced will certainly put any player out of the championship – it still means a statutory 10-day isolation.
‘We’ve worked really hard with the government’
Getting spectators back was “really important” to the Open returning after being cancelled in the pandemic last year.
“I think of The Open in terms of where I want it to be positioned as a world-class sporting event. Big time sporting events need big time crowds,” continued Slumbers.
“We’ve worked really hard with government to do that. There’s very strict conditions for any of those spectators to be able to get into the grounds. They’re being held further back from the players than we would normally do.
“This is part of a research programme for the government, and the government will be monitoring. They’re actually trying to understand with these big events how Covid does transmit in the outside on 500acres of land with the wind blowing.
“I think it’s probably inevitable that we will have some problems. We understand that, so does government, so does Public Health. We’ll work through that.”