Top professional wheelchair tennis players have slammed a decision by US Open officials to scrap the wheelchair event from this year's tournament as "disgusting discrimination".
Tournament organisers confirmed earlier this week that a curtailed US Open will go ahead - from August 31 to September 13 in New York - without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.More: 'Reckless': Djokovic tennis event gets flak over coronavirus fear Federer, Nadal help serve Pakistan's coronavirus relief efforts 'Playful escape': How sport is tackling coronavirus pandemic
The qualifying event for able-bodied players, mixed doubles and junior competitions were also eliminated, while the number of teams in the men's and women's doubles events was reduced by half in a bid to cut the number of players at the tournament for health reasons.
Australian Paralympic champion Dylan Alcott said the wheelchair omission was "blatant discrimination" and the decision was made without consulting the players.
"I thought I did enough to qualify - 2x champion, number 1 in the world," the 10-time Grand Slam winner wrote on Twitter. "But unfortunately I missed the only thing that mattered, being able to walk. Disgusting discrimination."
And please do not tell me I am a ‘greater risk’ because I am disabled. I am disabled yes but that does not make me SICK. I am fitter and healthier than nearly everybody reading this right now. There are no added risks.— Dylan Alcott (@DylanAlcott) June 17, 2020
Reigning singles and doubles champion with Alcott, Andy Lapthorne, expressed his disappointment over not being able to defend his titles, saying it was a "kick in the teeth".
"It's really tough to take," the 29-year-old British athlete told the BBC.
"We've had to battle for a lot over the years for what we've got right now," he said. "It just feels like we're going back years, and that's what hurts the most."
This is yet again another example of terrible leadership in the sport of tennis. I don’t get the chance to defend my singles and doubles titles at the @usopen because I’m in a wheelchair complete disgrace if this isn’t changed I don’t know what to say other than discrimination! https://t.co/V7QPLRNd6j— Andy Lapthorne (@lapstar11) June 17, 2020
We are professional athletes, and we live every day as such. Apart from how complex and demanding it is to be a professional athlete, we also fight day in and day out for the growth of our sport. This is a huge blow for us.— Gusti Fernandez (@gustifernandez4) June 18, 2020
Massively disappointed to find out on twitter this morning that the @usopen plan on cutting wheelchair tennis from this years tournament. The wheelchair players have had ZERO communication or consultation from either the ITF or the Grand Slam around this decision.— Gordon Reid (@GordonReid91) June 18, 2020
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of wheelchair tennis, said it "understands and shares the disappointment" caused by the decision.
"We continue to discuss with the organisers' potential approaches that could allow the wheelchair tennis competition to take place either on or off site," the ITF said in a statement on Thursday.
The US Open will take place without spectators from August 31 to September 13 in New York [File: Peter Morgan/AP]
Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) urged the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to reconsider its decision.
"We appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up multiple challenges for sport event organisers all around the world, but such challenges should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against a group of players and not offer inclusive competition for all," IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement.
No wheelchair tennis at the US Open this year. The @usopen is one of the best wheelchair tennis tournaments in the year and without Covid-19 I’d have loved to play, but now I’m relieved that I don’t have to fly to New York. I don’t feel discriminated. It is a wise decision.— Marjolein Buis (@MarjoleinBuis) June 18, 2020
On Friday, Tennis Australia said they were optimistic of running a full programme at January's Australian Open in Melbourne.
With New York still reporting hundreds of COVID-19 cases each day, the US Open will be the first Grand Slam staged without fans.