The French Tennis Federation (FFT) has today (Thursday) set out its plans to ensure a spectator capacity of 50% to 60% at this year’s French Open.

The FFT said a new ticket sales process for the grand slam tournament will open on July 9. The Federation confirmed last month that the 2020 French Open will now take place over three weeks, from September 21 to October 11, adding at the time that it was hoping to have fans in attendance.

In May, the FFT said it was in talks with the sport’s governing bodies amid reports the 2020 French Open at Roland Garros would see its dates moved again. Back in March, the FFT said the modernisation of the Roland Garros site – which includes the installation of a roof on the main Court Philippe Chatrier – had enabled the grand slam event to be rescheduled to the autumn.

The competition is held in Paris each May, but the FFT initially announced new dates due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2020 competition was then scheduled to be held from September 20 to October 4, but these dates were widely criticised as they clashed with the hardcourt season.

The FFT today said it is “acting responsibly” and in close collaboration with French government authorities, while benefitting from the advice of a committee of multi-disciplinary experts. Adding that it is “adapting and will continue to adapt” to the situation caused by the pandemic, the FFT said it has prepared a protocol that aims to protect spectators.

 The FFT said it has devised an organisation strategy that limits the number of spectators inside the stadium in ratio to the overall stadium capacity, a principle that has been implemented as of today in France’s cinemas and theatres.

This means that on the three show courts, Philippe-Chatrier, Suzanne-Lenglen and Simonne-Mathieu, tiered seating will follow a precise protocol. On every row, one seat will be left empty between every group of purchasers – a maximum of four people who wish to sit in adjacent seats.

On the outside courts, every other seat will be out of use, and spectators may sit in any of the available seats. The FFT said: “This way, the number of spectators allowed inside the stadium will be 50% to 60% of its usual capacity, allowing us to ensure the barrier measures are respected.”

These measures are expected to allow 20,000 spectators per day during the early stages of the tournament, and about 10,000 on the day of the final.

Ticket sales for Roland-Garros 2020 will open on July 9 for priority purchasers (members of FFT-licensed clubs) and on July 16 for the general public. The FFT said: “In view of the current situation, which is constantly changing, the reservation system for the three show courts is becoming more flexible. Tickets will be sold by day, court and seat category. Purchasers will be told the exact position of their seat in mid-September.

“If the situation continues to improve, more tickets may be put on sale at the beginning of September. However, if the situation requires more stringent hygiene standards that force us to reduce the number of spectators on site, the tournament organisers will refund any supplementary tickets sold.”

In terms of organisational matters, the FFT will adapt the way spectators move around the Roland-Garros site in order to ensure that the barrier measures and social distancing are respected. It added: “Though we recommend wearing a mask in the vicinity of the stadium and whenever you are standing or sitting still inside the grounds (in the stands), any spectators moving around the 12-hectare site of Roland-Garros stadium will be obliged to wear a mask.

“The layout of the various spaces will be adapted according to the current health guidelines, namely to ensure social distancing is respected. Finally, the cleaning and disinfecting of the various areas will be stepped up and distributers of hydroalcoholic solution will be installed.

“This way – thanks to the organising conditions and the close and constructive collaboration with the Ministry of Sports – the autumn edition of Roland-Garros will manage to combine the excitement of the world’s best clay court tournament with the strict adherence of the current hygiene measures.”

The FFT has taken a different approach to organisers of tennis’ remaining grand slam tournaments for the 2020 season. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) last month outlined a comprehensive health and safety plan as it confirmed that the 2020 US Open will go ahead behind closed doors as part of a double bill of tournaments.

The 2020 US Open is set to be played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, on its originally scheduled dates of August 31 to September 13. It will be immediately preceded by the relocated Western & Southern Open, which will take place at the same site having been moved from Cincinnati.

Earlier this week, the All England Club (AELTC) maintained that it is still in a “very good position” despite the cancellation of the 2020 Wimbledon Championships, but conceded that the insurance policy it has in place will not be repeatable moving forward.

This year’s edition of the tennis grand slam was due to commence on Monday but was cancelled for the first time since World War Two back in April after organisers conceded that the challenges presented by COVID-19 were insurmountable.

Image: Christophe Guibbaud / FFT