The Australian Open is a major fixture in the sporting calendar. Starting off the year, the eyes of the tennis world turn to Melbourne to watch two weeks of international greats duel it out on the blue courts.
At the height of this celebration of sport lands one of the most controversial dates in the Australian calendar: January 26. Formerly widely known as ‘Australia Day’, recent years have brought greater recognition of the belief that this is not a date to celebrate, marking as it does the beginning of the genocide.
While Sky News pundits wail against the annual diminishment of Australia Day, increasingly, organisations of all stripes and suites are distancing themselves from the date and acknowledging its difficult association with national identity.
The Australian Open, iconic as it is, is no stranger to these debates. In years prior, the tournament would host a day of celebration on January 26, complete with a lavish firework display, music, and the playing of the national anthem.
This year, the AO will be joining the vast and growing list of other organisations that are shunning or ignoring the day. Instead, January 26 will just be a regular day in the fixture of the tournament.
On January 26, the AO will host the mixed doubles final and the women’s and men’s singles semi-finals – without any additional fanfare.
Why the Australian Open Doesn’t Celebrate Australia Day
In 2023, the AO made the decision to break with tradition – a tradition that goes back to the 90s – and scrap the January 26 celebrations. While there has yet to be an update on the celebrations this year, it’s safe to assume that, barring a last-minute reversal, the Australian Open will no longer be celebrating Australia Day Going forward.
“We are mindful there are differing views, and at the Australian Open, we are inclusive and respectful of all,” said Tennis Australia about the decision at the time.
“We acknowledge the historical significance and deep spiritual connection our First Peoples have to this land and recognise this with a Welcome to Country on stadium screens prior to both the day and night session daily.”
Outside of a few ‘outraged’ comments in the press, the tournament’s decision to step away from the date is hardly controversial. Cricket Australia also stopped referring to Australia Day in its promotional materials for games held on the day in 2021 while many football clubs have made active calls to change the date. Several councils in Melbourne also choose to acknowledge the date in other ways, outside of a celebration.
The AO, for its part, also began hosting a First Nations Day last year, set to become an annual event. This year it will be held on Wednesday, 17 January, following the success of last year which saw famous First Nations players like Ash Barty and Evonne Goolagong Cawley get in on the action.
While the day was largely ignored by the media last year, Tennis Australia has said that they want to do their part to address historical injustice.