Australian tennis officials have made what they describe as an unprecedented decision to move the Canberra International tournament 370 miles east to Bendigo due to the impact of the ongoing bushfires in the region.

Today’s (Friday’s) announcement comes with the tournament, an ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Women’s World Tour event, due to commence on Monday. Offering qualification slots for the Australian Open later this month, the tournament was supposed to be staged at the Canberra Tennis Centre in Lyneham.

However, experts have advised that air quality in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is unlikely to improve to allow the event to proceed. The Canberra Times newspaper reported that Canberra had the poorest air quality of any major cities in the world on Wednesday and Thursday, reaching more than 20 times above hazardous levels.

With conditions expected to worsen, the decision has been taken to move the tournament to Bendigo, a part of Victoria not badly affected by bushfires in that state. “It was a really tough decision but it was the right decision,” said Tennis ACT chief executive Kim Kachel.

“Our thoughts are very much with the communities that are battling these fires and those that are doing it tough at the moment. We wanted to stress that’s a bigger priority than sporting events right now. The health of our players, fans, volunteers, staff and stakeholders is our biggest priority at all times.

“The best advice from weather and fire experts is the conditions over the next few days are unpredictable and make it unlikely to play. Based on the unpredictable conditions and some of the potential impacts of what’s coming up, the decision was made to relocate the tournament at the earliest opportunity. The team at Bendigo Tennis Association can help us stage a hopefully great event.”

Full refunds will be issued to those who have bought tickets to the Canberra International. Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in a statement: “We have been closely monitoring the bushfire situation in the region and particularly NSW, SA and Victoria and are receiving daily updates from the local experts and authorities.

“We know how important the tournament is for players preparing to play at the Australian Open and the decision to move the tournament from Canberra to Bendigo has been made to ensure they can still compete. We will continue to monitor the situation across the country and ensure we have the most accurate information to make any decisions about play.

“Our thoughts are with all those communities affected by the devastation caused by bushfires across Australia and further announcements regarding fundraising opportunities will be made shortly.”

Image: Tennis ACT