Millions of people within a 200-kilometre radius of Melbourne Park are to be vaccinated against the world’s most dangerous communicable diseases in order to ensure players arrive at the Australian Open ready to play tennis.
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After the death of 79-year-old Lyn Kan, from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, her devastated family called for an inspection of the area around the main courts to ensure there were no hidden viruses such as the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted diseases and highly contagious meningitis.
The Australian Open, the most lucrative tennis tournament in the world, had made it clear that it would not be in the “best interests” of the tournament for anyone to be facing preventable diseases on site, according to the plea document read out in court by lawyer Michael Keating.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has told the Australian media that a decision on whether or not to issue a vaccination will be made on Monday but plans are already in place to protect players and tournament staff.
Players are forced to submit to comprehensive drugs testing at the Australian Open. Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Keating said he would seek a pre-emptive injunction to stop those infected from travelling across the road into the Melbourne Park precinct and that an infection would have to be fatal or life-threatening.
“Having worked for the last 30 years for advocacy for men and women affected by HIV and meningitis, I believe this is the fairest course of action,” Keating said.
“This request is not seeking to challenge the ability of anybody, under the applicable laws, to access a services or services, but seeking a statutory protection as the proper thing to do.”
The request was heard before Magistrate Pamela Knight but was adjourned on Monday so lawyers and Serena Williams can present their case on an urgent basis.
The court heard the new vaccines were already available and were being administered to pregnant women in the Northern Territory.
Traditionally a tournament carries along with it both the well-loved Queen’s Cup trophy and the Darren Cahill Trophy, which is used to award a prize.
But in the past the tournament organiser has been left with a plum and in many respects a bumpy time after pulling one of the star players out at short notice.
Unlike other tournaments, Australian Open organisers have until 8am on the Sunday of the tournament to arrive at the decisions.
Cahill said players were required to get flu and cold tests. But he too was concerned with the prospect of meningitis being spread around the grounds.
“It’s scary for anybody,” he said. “I got a cholera infection one time and I was just feeling under the weather and I went and got the antibiotics and I was fine.
“But when I got down to the Melbourne sports hospital and got checked out, I got told to stay home.”
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But, much to the annoyance of the public health authorities, Cahill said: “I’m not here for my health and no player should have to face this type of stuff. They should be prepared just like athletes in other sports.”
The tournament organiser has the right to order players to hand over their dirty laundry to be tested ahead of the competition, so will not be compelled to grant a plea.
Tiley said: “If your whole world comes down at once then you can’t get on the court.”
Federal health authorities last year increased the level of protection against meningitis from a No 1 to No 1 and in March banned inbound travel from nearly 40 states and territories.
Meningitis in Australia has been declining since 1984, the peak years of disease, according to the health ministry’s lead epidemiologist, Dr Greg Whyman.
He said one in 500 Australians contracts the meningitis B strain and one in 1,500 dies from it.
Since 1989, the daily life of those carrying the Meningitis B virus has been monitored by the program Medreaches.