The world of sports looks spellbound to Melbourne. A major event with spectators: It hasn’t been around for a long time. In the interview, CNN man Ursin Caderas, who was able to come with the tennis entourage, speaks about anticipation, risks and the skepticism in the population.
Ursin Caderas, you have come out of a two-week hotel quarantine. How did you experience this?
Two weeks of house arrest are tough. Of course, it was a classy hotel where the players, supervisors and journalists who had entered were accommodated together. But in the end you are locked in and cannot open the window, for example. Many players said that they were struggling with little fresh air. It was important to keep yourself busy and happy with exercise and work.
They were staying in the same hotel as the players. What about equal treatment?
I was lucky that I was allowed to enter the contingent of 1200 people as a TV producer. As you know, the borders in Australia are closed. We traveled to the country together with the players in a total of 15 planes from seven cities. The conditions were actually the same, with the exception of the training sessions that the players were given. We were provided with fitness equipment and they took care of us as well as the players.
Ursin Caderas (35) works as a TV producer for the news channel CNN. After completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Winterthur, the native of Graubünden studied international journalism at City University in London. At the Australian Open he also works as a reporter for the worldwide TV signal. Caderas was able to travel to Melbourne in January as one of a total of 1200 players and officials to report on the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. He will be one of the few journalists to have direct access to the players.
The shock came this Wednesday: A hotel employee tested positive. 600 people, including players and supervisors, had to be immediately quarantined. What was going on inside you?
The first reaction was: ‘No, not again!’ We have only just come out of quarantine and were able to start work under strict templates. The information came out of the blue. Because the government is really strict, it was immediately clear that we had to go back into isolation and get tested (Editor’s note: Caderas received the negative test result during the conversation).
Was the measure justified?
Absolutely. You haven’t had any new infections here for a month and you do everything possible to keep the numbers low – ideally at zero. There is no leeway and no exceptions. Neither for the Australian Open nor for the wealthy players.
At that point, did you have the feeling that the tournament was going to falter?
It was strange. On arrival in Australian you thought: ‘Let’s go.’ When I came out of quarantine and with the tournament director (Craig Tiley, editor’s note) could speak, he said to me: ‘We are not there yet.’ And as the events on Wednesday show: It only takes one case and the situation is completely different within a few hours. The tournament remains in danger if there are more cases.
To what extent do you take a risk with holding the tournament?
Logically, the Australian Open will take place under the highest security precautions. Everything is permanently disinfected, only half of the seats will be occupied and a mask is required in all buildings. As soon as something happens, politics intervenes. You really don’t want to risk anything. Of course: the tournament is important. For the city, for the region, for the country. Of course, there is also a lot of money involved, for example for TV rights. But in the end one does not want to and must not risk the health of the population. That is the top priority.
A normality that we have not known for a year.»
Ursin Caderas on the regained feeling of freedom Down Under.
In Switzerland people think: ‘Wow! Zero cases! They live quite normally in Australia ›- tell us your impressions.
The people here consider themselves very, very lucky, you can tell. But they also sacrificed a lot, were under house arrest for five months and were only allowed out for an hour a day to go shopping. Now, in midsummer, everyone appreciates what has been achieved. Also because you can see what is happening in the rest of the world. You can go to a bar, a restaurant or a disco. A normality that we have not known for a year.
What is the mood like in the population? Is the tournament accepted?
In all honesty: you are very critical. When you talk to people, consume media or scroll through the social media timelines – the concerns are there. The organizers hope, of course, that the mood will turn positive with the tournament start on Monday. I know all four Grand Slam tournaments very well and the atmosphere in Melbourne has always been one of the best. It is hoped that the euphoria will arise as soon as the players are on the field.
Will tennis fans even come to the games and watch the tournament on site if there is great skepticism?
A maximum of 30,000 people are allowed on the site per day. Distributed to all stadiums and places. There is a 50 percent capacity limit in each stadium. Ticket sales have been slow in the last few weeks, especially because of the critical voices. But one has to assume that this will still attract.
What exactly are the security precautions?
Usually the Australian Open is a huge festival. This year is of course completely different. This includes the aforementioned disinfection, rigorous contact tracing or the requirement to wear a mask in closed rooms. There are no tickets on paper, everything is done via mobile phone – including tracing. You are only allowed to be in “your” group on the site. The ball children are also no longer allowed to touch towels. There are many rules. And: If there is only one positive case, it could happen very quickly.
What do the players say about it? When they arrived, some of them expressed themselves clearly and gave air to their displeasure.
The fact is: The players are really looking forward to the tournament. You have to imagine: It is the first time in almost a year that there will be spectators again. I have followed a few ‘ghost tournaments’ last year, that’s something completely different. In addition, the whole sports world will be looking to Australia from Monday. We can look forward to these pictures.
How do you see the anticipation among the players, do you have an example?
Naomi Osaka, for example, told me in an interview how she almost cried at a training match when the audience stood up and applauded. She got goosebumps because she missed those moments so much. I think we’ll see scenes like this a few more times in the next two weeks.
How do your days in Melbourne look like?
I will mainly do player interviews – in a studio. And of course there are a lot of rules because we are in the same room with the players and we are wearing masks. Regular tests will also be part of my everyday life from now on.
Do you feel safe?
Oh yes, very much. As sure as not in a long time. I live in London and the cases there are still very high. Here life is almost as normal as we all knew it, I missed that.
Will we experience something like a starting shot back to better times in the next few weeks?
Of course this is a groundbreaking moment. And a test. Can you fly in that many players and put them in quarantine? Are they all adhering to it? Is there a safe ‘bubble’? The tournament director recently told me that he was currently receiving calls from organizers from all over the world asking how to set up such events with spectators. The organizers of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo are also said to have reported. But whether we will experience the beginning of normalcy is still unlikely to be expected.
There are so many background noises these days: is Roger Federer’s cancellation in Melbourne even an issue?
Of course you are aware of that here. Roger Federer is by far the most popular tennis player in Australia. There are fans who buy tickets just because of him. As soon as it announces itself, prices rise, and that’s not only the case in Melbourne. You will probably see a lot of RF hats this year too. I am sure there will also be Swiss flags to be seen, which of course will also be waved for Belinda Bencic and Stan Wawrinka.