With the last ball struck on Parisian clay for another year, those who cherish the tradition of Roland Garros will wait anxiously until next February when the Federation Francaise de Tennis (FFT) vote on long-terms plans for the French Open.
As has been widely reported, the prime issue is whether to keep the tournament in its current home of more than 80 years and try to expand into currently unavailable real estate or move to a new site either at Versailles or close to Disneyland Paris. The FFT maintain relocation would come with a bill in excess of 600 million Euros (approximately $US 730m).
FFT president Jean Gachassin is a man who has always been acutely aware of size. A former international rugby union player, at a diminutive 5ft 2ins, he is the shortest man ever to wear the blue of France. He readily accepts that the current site on the western edge of the city, adjacent to the Bois de Boulogne and close to Porte d’Auetiel is too small; Roland Garros has only 21 acres in total at its disposal compared to the U.S. Open that boasts 34.5 acres and Wimbledon 49 with the Australian Open even roomier.
The site at Versailles, close to the historic palace and situated 15 miles outside of Paris, could stretch to astronomical 148 acres and Gachassin admits: “We need more green space so people can sit down and watch a big screen and relax a bit. Here at Roland Garros they can't.
“In Australia, in some parts of the stadium they have jazz bands playing; it's a party. At the U.S. Open, all the space you have is marvelous.”
Gachassin is a sentimentalist but also a pragmatist. He realized France losing out in the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games to London and the subsequent dropping of plans to build a new stadium court with a retractable roof hit the French Open hard. Like most long-time French tennis fans he cares about the tradition of Roland Garros but knows evolution equates to change.
“I changed stadium three times as a rugby player," Gachassin said. "The young people who do not know Roland Garros will go where the stadium is down the road. It's like that. It's life.”
But there is hope a move may not be necessary. Paris’ environmentalist mayor Bertrand Delanoe has been repeatedly lobbied by Roland Garros traditionalists and is now beginning to think the city cannot afford to lose one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative annual sporting events. "They sensed that there was a little bit of danger, and so we are discussing a lot more seriously," Gachassin said.
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