The heat finally suspended play at the Australian Open today, with extreme temperatures topping 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). Players were left to ask, what took so long?
Implementing the Extreme Heat Policy for the first time since 2009, officials at Melbourne Park postponed all matches on outer courts until the evening and closed the retractable roofs to continue play on the show courts. The move came after days of grueling weather in which some players suffered from blackouts, hallucinations, vomiting and other symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Maria Sharapova was one of many players demanding clarity on exactly what constitutes unplayable conditions under the policy. It says play will be suspended at the referee's discretion only after the wet bulb globe temperature -- a composite measure of heat that considers temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover -- has reached a certain threshold. Players are calling for a common-sense approach with a simple temperature threshold that doesn't create a petty distinction between today's 109 degree weather and Tuesday's 108 degree conditions.
The heat wave hasn't affected just players like China's Peng Shuai -- who suffered vomiting and cramps and was even called for a time-wasting violation when she said she couldn't walk in her loss to Japan's Kurumi Nara -- or the ball boy who collapsed during a match between Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Canada's Milos Raonic. It's also affecting the fans, most of whom have fled the stands for air-conditioned areas. Despite an 8 percent rise in pre-sales for grounds tickets overall, attendance on Wednesday was down almost 15,000 from the corresponding day last year.
The mess we've seen at this year's Open should bring more scrutiny to FIFA's choice of Doha to host the 2022 World Cup. Aside from the questions about human rights and safety, Qatar experiences an average summer temperature of 106 degrees, surpassing 114 degrees in peak sun. FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke recently said that the tournament would be best played between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15, when daytime temperatures hover around a comfortable 75 degrees. But FIFA quickly walked back that statement, with President Sepp Blatter clarifying that Valcke's comments reflected a personal opinion and not an official schedule change. A decision from FIFA is not expected until at least the end of this year. The debacle at the Australian Open should make that decision much easier.
As for the International Tennis Federation, which governs the organizing committees the four Grand Slam tournaments, it should heed the calls of its players to re-evaluate its heat policy, which will probably play a recurring role in Australian Opens to come. This year so far looks like a repeat of 2013, the country's hottest year on record, with blistering heat waves turning temperature charts deep purple and causing massive wildfires. Last January, David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction for Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, warned that such record-breaking heat will only become more common, making the tension between exhausted players and bullish officials a problem that isn't going away.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)