A Slovenian athlete was forced to abandon a qualifying match at the Australian Open on Tuesday. Fumes from the ongoing bushfires in the country sent Dalila Jakupovic into a coughing fit that caused her to drop to her knees.
“I was really scared that I would collapse,” the Slovenian athlete told The Associated Press in an interview. “I never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. But … I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”
Jakupovic told reporters that it was “not fair” that she had been asked to play under such conditions.
The smoke took a toll on Jakupovic’s fellow athlete. Eugenie Bouchard — a former Wimbledon finalist — sought medical assistance during her qualifying match but pushed on until the end of the game. Bernard Tomic, Australia’s very own, faced breathing issues during his match and required a medical timeout.
In a press conference on the same day, Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said in a press junket that air quality in Melbourne was under “very poor” to “hazardous” conditions, and was recorded as “the worst in the world” overnight.
The Australian Open has released a statement about the matter saying, “As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority,” as per NBC News.
Organizers of the tournament received backlash online, including from athletes, over its decision to carry on with Tuesday’s matches.
Elina Svictolina, who holds the fifth highest-ranked female tennis player in the world, expressed her dismay in a tweet that wrote: “Why do we need to wait for something bad to happen to do an action [sic]”