Australian Open organisers have come under fire for an initiative at Melbourne Park on Wednesday that allowed Indigenous fans to purchase cheaper tickets than the general public. The move was part of First Nations Day at the Australian Open, which also marked the return of retired champion Ash Barty to Melbourne Park.
A year after breaking the country's near-half-century Australian Open singles title drought, Barty was back on Margaret Court Arena, hitting with the First Nations ballkid squad. Barty is a proud Indigenous woman and her presence delighted the tennis world on a wet Wednesday in the Victorian capital.
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To coincide with First Nations Day, tournament organisers offered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fans the chance to purchase ground passes at discounted rates. Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said they had no vetting process to determine whether fans were Indigenous, but were providing a $10 discount on tickets under the “Mob pricing” category.
“It’s a hard question to answer because there’s not going to be a vetting process on that. It’s just going to be an advanced ticket purchase,” Mr Tiley told 3AW. The Australian Open boss said the initiative was about making attending the tennis accessible for “every Australian”.
However, the move has been slammed by some members of the Australian community, with prominent Indigenous activist Warren Mundine brandishing it 'patronising' for First Nations people. Mundine argued that the policy was in effect 'dividing Australia'.
“I just find this stuff patronising,” Mr Mundine told Sky News Australia. “I've been to the Australian Open a number of times and I've met Aboriginal people who go to the Australian Open and watch the tennis, and guess what?
“They actually paid for their own tickets and have been paying for them over a number of years, because they've got this secret business stuff which is actually working and running your own business and making money so you can buy these tickets to do things.”
Dr Bella d’Abrera from the Institute of Public Affairs was also critical of the Australian Open's Indigenous ticket pricing move after labelling it an example of 'woke virtue signalling'. Dr d’Abrera argued on Sky News that Tennis Australia was using the sport as a 'weapon of political division'.
“The only thing that this kind of shallow virtue signalling achieves is to pit Australians against each other based on their race,” Dr d’Abrera said. “Sport is a critical part of our social fabric, which for generations has brought our nation together, yet is now being used by a privileged elite as a weapon of political division and woke virtue signalling.”
Ash Barty returns for First Nations Day at Melbourne Park
To celebrate First Nations Day on Wednesday, Barty was joined on Margaret Court Arena by her mentor and fellow Aussie tennis great, Evonne Goolagong Cawley. The 26-year-old former World No.1 - pregnant with her first child - was chuffed to be back at the scene of her momentous final triumph over American Danielle Collins 12 months ago.
"It's so nice to be back here again," said Barty, a proud Ngarigo woman. "To see plenty of good kids coming out, kids from all over the country.
"A day like today brings people together and I am happy to be here back on court hitting with yellow balls. It is few and far between these days."
Goolagong Cawley, also a former World No.1 and a Wiradjuri woman, famously presented Barty with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on RLA last year. Now mentoring Gold Coast prodigy Olivia Gadecki, Barty will no doubt be a keen observer when the 20-year-old wildcard plays Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk in the Open's second round later on Wednesday.
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