News, Culture & Society

Wimbledon: Face coverings and staggered start times are the order of the day in Covid era

A Championships like no other: With the UK still in the grip of Covid-19, face coverings, staggered start times and no cash payments are the order of the day at Wimbledon… and don’t ask for autographs or selfies!

  • All spectators must have proof of two vaccinations or a negative Covid-19 test 
  • Face coverings are required around the site – but not once you’re in your seats  
  • The traditional fans’ queue will not be happening this year due to the pandemic
  • Prize money is also down – and don’t ask for autographs or selfies from players
  • In a non-virus change, Wimbledon has finally brought in a 25-second shot clock 

This fortnight will see a very different Wimbledon than we are used to, as the tournament returns after a year away.

Changing Government advice has meant a certain amount of scrambling to get ready and, unlike most recent large-scale tennis events, there has not been a dry run for producing a Covid-secure event.

Here are the big changes…

Face coverings are required to be worn around the site – but not when you’re in your seats

The Crowd

All spectators must show their Covid status, with proof required via the NHS App of two vaccinations or a negative lateral flow test. Face coverings will be required when moving around the site, but not in seats. There will be one-way systems in place to manage the flow of people.

Other measures include the gates opening 30 minutes earlier at 10am and staggered start times on the show courts, with No 1 at 1pm and Centre Court at 1.30pm. All on-site purchases will have to be made by card.

The Tickets

Wimbledon has a 50 per cent capacity crowd of around 21,000 on a daily basis, up until the finals weekend, when Centre Court is permitted to be full. Unlike in previous years, it is not just Centre, No 1 and No 2 that will be ticketed. That will also apply to Courts 3, 12 and 18, meaning those with ground passes will not be permitted access. More tickets are expected to become available this week. Those seeking them should look at and set up a myWimbledon account.

The Tradition

The Royal Box will be only half full, with some guests invited based on their work in fighting the pandemic. There will be no Champions Dinner at the end of the tournament. The usual fans’ queue is not in operation this year, but expect long lines to get in due to Covid checks in addition to the regular security.

A big front-of-house change will be the closure of Church Road, which runs past the grounds. This has won the All England Club few friends but allows more space for pedestrian access.

Wimbledon wants it to become a permanent feature as it expands its site on to the neighbouring Wimbledon Park golf course.

The Players

Slightly reduced prize money from 2019, down to just over £35million, is the price the players have paid for the extra costs involved in getting the event on. There will also be reduced revenue from ticket sales, hospitality, food and merchandising.

Players have been put in a ‘bubble’ hotel in Westminster, with the each-way commute taking at least 40 minutes, and sometimes more than an hour. They cannot go anywhere other than the tournament site or their hotel, and therefore socialising in the hostelries of nearby Wimbledon village is out.

The Competition

Wimbledon features all the usual formats, with fields at their normal size and the juniors’ events going ahead in the second week, but the legends tournaments have been shelved.

On-court Changes

If you are courtside at the end of a match and hoping for an autograph or selfie with your favourite player, do not get your hopes up, as both are forbidden. More welcome is the ending of players treating the ballkids like towel butlers, as they now have to put their comfort blankets in a courtside bin, with no one else allowed to touch them.

A welcome change enforced by Covid has been ball-kids no longer handling sweaty towels

A welcome change enforced by Covid has been ball-kids no longer handling sweaty towels

Non-Covid Changes

Wimbledon has introduced a shot clock at last, with a courtside monitor showing the countdown between points of 25 seconds. The warm-up is reduced to four minutes. The next step is to stop the time-wasting of fake toilet breaks and medical time-outs.

Line-calling technology is now operating on every court, although line judges will still make the initial calls.

The Organisation

Wimbledon has had a total change of leadership in the last two years with a new chairman in Ian Hewitt, new chief executive in Sally Bolton, new referee in Gerry Armstrong and a new tournament director in Jamie Baker.