By Alexandra Willis
At The All England Club
13 August 2010
The All England Club today announced that it will be relaxing its strict ‘all-white’ tennis clothing regulations for the athletes competing at the Olympic tennis event at Wimbledon in 2012.
The rule, which has drawn criticism from the likes of Andre Agassi and John McEnroe in the past, is one of Wimbledon’s most famous traditions, but All England Club Chief Executive Ian Ritchie was keen to impress that the Club had no objections to removing it for the Olympic competition to allow athletes to compete in their national colours.
“We are enormously supportive of this event,” said Ritchie. “This event is not The Championships, and the idea was never to look at a repeat of The Championships. The colour of the players’ clothing is symptomatic of that.”
The absence of white clothing isn’t the only thing that spectators will notice about SW19’s historic surroundings in two year’s time. From the moment the last ball is struck on men’s finals day at The Championships on 8 July 2012, the Olympic team will crank into action, transforming the iconic green and purple into a haven of Olympic branding in just 20 days.
“Wimbledon was the obvious choice,” explained Debbie Jevans, LOCOG’s Director of Sport and Venues. “It is the best tennis venue in the world, the facilities are second to none, and the athletes are at the heart of the operation. There is a lot already in place. Our task will be to make it look the same, but different. Spectators will know that it is Olympic tennis, not The Championships.”
In line with the smaller number of athletes (176 compared to the usual 300), the capacity of the All England Club grounds will also be dramatically reduced from their normal figure of 40,000, with 26,000 daily tickets on offer. Nine days of competition, each beginning at 11am, will run from the 28 July to the 5 August, and will be played on 12 of Wimbledon’s 19 courts.
Spectators will enter through the south of the grounds, an area normally the preserve of hospitality tents, and the Olympic family will grace the Royal Box. The members will retain use of Aorangi Park during the event.
Fans wondering if they will be able to see night tennis at Wimbledon will again be disappointed as the AELTC and LOCOG stick to the same policy used during The Championships, but the organisers have allowed an extra ‘contingency day’ should the weather play tricks on London.
And what of the grass itself? “We were always confident that we would be able to re-lay the courts in time for the Olympic event, and a recent test confirmed that,’ explained Ritchie. “It was admittedly a small test, but the principles will be the same. We will pre-germinate more grass seed and test it further after The Championships next year.”
Colour may be allowed, but don’t expect to see any Olympic rings on the hallowed turf.