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Novak Djokovic's event serves as a 'wake-up call' as sports attempt to come back

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Novak Djokovic's event serves as a 'wake-up call' as sports attempt to come back

It was not sanctioned, not recommended and certainly did not follow any health and safety protocols. 

For two weeks, the No. 1 tennis player in the world Novak Djokovic hosted a brand new 'Adria Tour.' He planned to get some of the best male players onto the court since the ATP and WTA tennis tours have been suspended since mid-March. But all it took were those two weeks -- of a planned four -- to create a coronavirus outbreak in a section of the globe that was not as drastically affected by the virus. 

Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki all attended and later tested positive for the virus. Photos were shared of large crowds, the players hugging and high-fiving, and no safety protocols being enforced. 

Most damning were videos that circulated of the post-tournament party.

It's easy to say after the fact that what happened in Serbia and Croatia was a bad idea, but it never was a good idea to begin with. For some, it is now reflected as a black eye on tennis. 

Managing owner of the Citi Open Mark Ein shared his disappointment to NBC Sports Washington with how the event was handled as tennis is making plans to have a safe return. 

"I think it's a shame," Ein said. "But, it's very clear if you watched the event that they had no protocols in place."

"It was almost like a timewarp back to pre-coronavirus. Actually, when I first was watching I had to look and see if it was live or taped because none of us in the last four months have seen anything that looked like that."

Even for the next couple of months, we aren't going to see anything like was observed at Djokovic's event. Ein's Citi Open in Washington D.C. will signify the restart of the competitive men's tennis season in mid-August. How Rock Creek Park will navigate through hosting an international event will lay a path for future tennis tournaments. 

The organizers have set up certain protocols that involve testing, a 'bubble environment' for the players at a hotel, and robust contact tracing. Needless to say, it will not be anywhere close to the Adria Tour. 

Even as COVID-19 has turned political in the United States and other countries, Ein is not concerned about the level of buy-in on these measures from the players.

"After the news that came out this week, it's not going to be hard to get players to realize how important it is," Ein said. "None of them want to get sick and I think everyone now sees what happens if a) the events don't use the proper protocols and b) if the players don't follow them.

"I never really had much worry about players complying if they were in an environment where it was very clear what was expected and now I have zero because see what happens if you don't do it. They don't want to get sick."

Still, holding an event during this time is not without risk. There is no guarantee that participants at the Citi Open won't test positive or that every single person at the tournament will follow all protocols in place and the virus doesn't spread.

In all likelihood, it won't be as bad as Djokovic's event where over 30% of the players contracted the virus -- which does not include the spectators and family members who also tested positive. But if something is productive from the unsanctioned tournament, it's that the world is not ready for a full return to normal. 

At the most basic level, it was a wake-up call for players and fans who believe the virus is behind us. It is a wake-up call to the sports world that if an athlete doesn't follow the rules, others can get sick and eventually everything goes back to being shutdown.

"I think it's a wake-up call for people everywhere. We're all living some version of this. We were all in lockdown and now we're starting to come back and as you get out in the world, it's very easy to get complacent and feel like it's safe. Because it takes a while to get the disease, you can go back and do things and go to bed that night and say 'wow nothing happened," Ein said.

"There's a lesson for all of us, that until there's a vaccine it's just smart to take the basic precautions." 

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