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Wimbledon staff revolt: Fury as workers are ‘sacked on the spot’ for taking breaks to watch tennis

Staff claim they are being sacked at Wimbledon for small transgressions like going to watch the tennis on Henman Hill after low turnout at the grand slam.

A total of 153,193 people attended the first four days of play, from Monday to Thursday, the smallest number of spectators since 2007 which saw 148,986 people go to the championship. 

Figures of attendees are much less than before the pandemic, down 11% on 2019, when it was last hosted at full capacity, which workers believe has prompted management to ‘cull’ staff numbers. 

The Times reported that staff including housekeepers and cleaners are being sacked for going to the toilet ‘without asking’, eating strawberries, and drinking while wearing their uniforms.

Reasons for low numbers have been blamed on Covid, Roger Federer – who draws in the crowds – not competing due to a knee injury, the cost-of-living crisis which means people are unable to afford the £75-price tag for a ticket to one of the courts and those with hospitality tickets dropping in and out of the tennis. 

Empty seats seen while Andy Murray plays on Day 3 of the Wimbledon Championship against John Isner who beat the Brit in  four sets

Empty seats seen while Andy Murray plays on Day 3 of the Wimbledon Championship against John Isner who beat the Brit in  four sets 

Empty seats on Centre Court during day four of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Empty seats on Centre Court during day four of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Thursday's match on court 3 is seen with low numbers of filled seat as Romania's Ana Bogdan in seen in action during her second round match against Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova

Thursday’s match on court 3 is seen with low numbers of filled seat as Romania’s Ana Bogdan in seen in action during her second round match against Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova

General view of empty seats on court one during the second round match between Poland's Iga Swiatek and Netherlands' Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove on Thursday

General view of empty seats on court one during the second round match between Poland’s Iga Swiatek and Netherlands’ Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove on Thursday 

General view of empty seats in court 3 during the second round match between Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova and Romania's Ana Bogdan

Court one seen sparsely attended during the second round match between Poland's Iga Swiatek and Netherlands' Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove

General view of empty seats in court 3 (left) during the second round match between Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova and Romania’s Ana Bogdan. Court one (right) also seen sparsely attended during the second round match between Poland’s Iga Swiatek and Netherlands’ Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove

The newspaper said in a leaked email that the contractor for Wimbledon told workers that ‘lower than expected’ spectators has meant that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – who organise the event – have asked them to look at ‘reducing’ staff numbers. ‘It may become necessary to ‘cut’ staff,’ the email added. 

Staff believe this is what is behind the firing on Wednesday of three communications workers who were seen in their uniforms, while off duty, drinking alcohol and watching the action on the screen on Henman Hill. 

One person is claimed to have been sacked for going to the toilet without asking while another was ‘fired on the spot’ for sitting down after cleaning the toilets.

‘They’re just trying to cull people,’ one housekeeping worker in their 20s said. ‘Since the email went out, they’ve been very harsh to people, not really giving them any warnings. They’re getting kicked out for relatively minor things.

‘It feels like we’re on edge because when you want to sit down for a bit you’re looking around, hoping no one is watching. When we’ve done our jobs and there’s nothing to do, we can’t just be on our feet all day.’

Rows of empty seats on court 1 as Great Britain's Heather Watson plays against Kaja Juvan during day five of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Rows of empty seats on court 1 as Great Britain’s Heather Watson plays against Kaja Juvan during day five of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

General view of empty seats in court 3 as Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova serves during her second round match against Romania's Ana Bogdan

General view of empty seats in court 3 as Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova serves during her second round match against Romania’s Ana Bogdan

Great Britain's Heather Watson serves during her third round match against Kaja Juvan during day five of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships as empty seats are seen in the background

Great Britain’s Heather Watson serves during her third round match against Kaja Juvan during day five of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships as empty seats are seen in the background 

Another worker is said to have got a ‘final warning’ from their supervisor after a general manager photographed them watching a match while having a five-minute break on Henman Hill.  

A 19-year-old woman from the housekeeping team also said she was ‘really chuffed’ to be chosen to work at Wimbledon. 

But her friend then got an email saying he will not get ‘any more shifts’ after he was seen eating strawberries on the Hill during his break on Wednesday. 

She added: ‘Now we’re literally all bricking it to do anything on our breaks or even sit on the hill after we finish working in case we get told there won’t be any more shifts for us.’

A spokesman for the All England Club said: ‘We value all of the staff who help us to deliver the Championships, they are crucial to staging this world-class event.

‘We meet annually with each of our major contractors to agree the terms and conditions of employment, which are shared with all potential employees.’   

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said that the main courts were being fully booked each day but general ground passes were not selling out.

Empty seats on Centre Court for Emma Raducanu during her second round match before she lost to French player Caroline Garcia in two sets

Empty seats on Centre Court for Emma Raducanu during her second round match before she lost to French player Caroline Garcia in two sets 

Empty seats on Centre Court during day four of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Empty seats on Centre Court during day four of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Officials added that any refunded Centre Court tickets were being resold on the website and bought ‘immediately’.

Almost everyone who spoke to PA news agency in the famous SW19 queue for on-the-day tickets on Friday cited a key reason for the quiet year being the absence of 20-time grand slam winner Federer and the hundreds of international fans he attracts.

The 40-year-old Swiss player has won Wimbledon eight times but is not competing this year as he recovers from knee surgery.

Those in line also said the cost-of-living crisis and coronavirus are likely to be keeping spectators away.

Colm O’Donnell, from Ashford in Kent, said: ‘This is my fifth year, and 2017, 2018, 2019, I’ve seen Roger Federer.

‘This is the first year that I’m feeling neutral, not seeing my favourite player that I really would pay good money to see and watch on court.’

Mr O’Donnell said he might have opted to enter through the ballot, as he has in previous years, if Federer had been playing.

The tournament has already been hit by coronavirus, taking out last year’s runner-up and one of the favourites for Wimbledon, Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, who tested positive on Tuesday.

His withdrawal follows that of Croatian former finalist Marin Cilic, who announced on Monday that he had also tested positive for Covid-19.

It's been claimed in light of poor numbers, Wimbledon workers are being sacked on the spot for going to the toilet 'without asking', going to watch tennis and are being told not to drink while wearing their uniforms. Pictured: Housekeeping staff spray the seats in Centre Court with a disinfectant at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

It’s been claimed in light of poor numbers, Wimbledon workers are being sacked on the spot for going to the toilet ‘without asking’, going to watch tennis and are being told not to drink while wearing their uniforms. Pictured: Housekeeping staff spray the seats in Centre Court with a disinfectant at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Paul Miller, the founder of Eden Mill, the official gin partner to the LTA, said those with hospitality tickets may want to drop in and out of the tennis. 

He told the Guardian: ‘The ability to have the peaceful little bit of time away from all the hubbub around Wimbledon where there’s a lot of noise and a lot of action going on and being able to step outside and be looked after for a brief time in between matches … in that [hospitality] area.

‘The ability to be able to drop in and drop out of the tennis, see as much or as little as you want, and also in our case where we’re hosting a lot of guests – to be able to allow them to do as they wish.’ 

Max Smith who queued for tickets for two hours said he ‘hated’ the empty seats.  He added: ‘It does leave a bad taste when you see all those empty seats reserved for corporates. Screw the corporate types, they should just go to a fancy restaurant instead. Wimbledon needs to do more to make it seem like it’s not elitist.’

The cost of Wimbledon tickets today, according to its website, are £27 for ground passes, £75 for Court 2 and 3, between £105 and £110 for Court 1 and £115 to £120 for Centre Court. 

Organisers will be hoping that two days of stunning British success stories will boost ticket sales after a lower-than-expected turnout this year.

Great Britain’s number one Cameron Norrie stormed through to the fourth round of the men’s singles with a straight-sets victory over America’s Steve Johnson on Friday night.

Fans broke out in screams and started football-style chants which 26-year-old Norrie told journalists he found ‘funny’ and boosted his game.

Heather Watson also reached the last 16 at a grand slam for the first time in her career after beating Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan in her third-round singles game.

The 30-year-old Guernsey-born player will return to the hallowed grass courts on Saturday in two doubles matches.

Staff are being sacked at Wimbledon for small transgressions like eating strawberries in light of turnout at the tennis grand slam, it's been revealed. Pictured: A worker on Thursday is seen updating the order of play

Staff are being sacked at Wimbledon for small transgressions like eating strawberries in light of turnout at the tennis grand slam, it’s been revealed. Pictured: A worker on Thursday is seen updating the order of play

Pictured: Ground staff pull the rain covers onto Court One after rain stopped play on day four of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London

Pictured: Ground staff pull the rain covers onto Court One after rain stopped play on day four of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London

On Thursday, Katie Boulter triggered tears from the crowd when she dedicated her round-two win to her grandmother, Jill, who died this week.

The 25-year-old player from Leicester will also return on Saturday to face France’s Harmony Tan, who dashed tennis titan Serena Williams’ Wimbledon hopes in the first round this year.

Meanwhile Liam Broady, from Stockport in Greater Manchester, will be playing his third-round match on Saturday against Boulter’s boyfriend and Australian number one Alex de Minaur.

Boulter and Broady are the underdogs in their games but the increasingly vocal home crowd will provide them with strong support.

Britain’s Jamie Murray also scored a win alongside tennis great Venus Williams in their doubles match against New Zealand’s Michael Venus and Polish player Alicja Rosolska on Friday night.

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