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opinion

Spectators pack Centre court as Italy's Jannik Sinner and Serbia's Novak Djokovic clash at Wimbledon on July 5.Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press

Now that everyone’s allowed back into Wimbledon after three years, it’s time to begin complaining about the manner in which they are allowed back.

Local coverage of the tournament has been dominated for days by complaints about empty seats at Centre Court.

There are four ways to get into the All England Club’s premier venue – you can be rich and famous and invited; you can win a lottery to buy a ticket; you can line up very early for a very few seats which are held aside; or you can hang around all day hoping someone with a ticket leaves the grounds early, at which point their seat is sold at a discount.

It’s these feeble attempts at democracy that seem to be causing the problem. In the first week, there are three matches a day at Centre Court. That might mean nine or 10 hours of tennis, played with short intermissions between contests. The grounds open at 10 a.m. The first match on Centre Court doesn’t start until 1:30 p.m.

Only a bladderless robot who subsists on Soylent and sunlight is going to sit there all day without taking a few long breaks. The obvious moment to leave is right after one match ends. So when the next match starts, it looks like no one’s there.

They are. They’re just queuing for the toilets or eating.

Still, London tennis fans have gone bonkers because it feels as if they are being denied something they are (in no way) owed.

The problem is not helped by the fact that a Wimbledon crowd doesn’t look like a regular sports crowd. A lot of the men are done up in pastel summer suits and ties. Nearly all of the women look like they’re dressed for a wedding. When you find yourself caught in a thicket of these people, it can feel like on you’re on the set of a Great Gatsby reboot.

These people aren’t just rich. They also look rich. Nothing inspires the rage of the aspirational middle class like 1-per-centers rubbing it in their faces. Wimbledon is the place these two factions collide.

As one very reasonable sounding tennis activist told a broadsheet the other day: “Screw the corporate types. They should just go to a fancy restaurant instead.”

Da, da, comrade – strike a blow for the revolution by getting the kulaks out of this crudely capitalistic and shockingly eco-unfriendly exercise … so they can let you in.

What’s the solution? Wimbledon plans to build another 8,000-seat show court across the street. The bad news is that you won’t be able to get tickets to that one either. The good news is that you’ve got the bad news up front.

Another hand-wringing storyline here – overall attendance is down. Pre-COVID, when you walked these grounds in the afternoon, it was like trying to tunnel your way to the stage at a rock concert. Wall-to-wall, everyone’s determined to hold their ground and a lot of them are drunk.

This year, though all restrictions have been lifted, you can move about easily. The crowds aren’t down a ton – about 10 per cent – but it’s noticeable.

The same people wailing about empty seats at Centre Court are lamenting an apparent lack of interest generally. Is it COVID? Is it inflation? Is it because there are no foreigners here? (I walked through Leicester Square the other day. Believe me – there are far too many of us foreigners here).

How about that going to a high-profile sports event like this one is more hassle than it’s worth? How’s that for a reason?

First, you have to find a ticket, which is nearly impossible. Having found one, you have to spend a packet to buy it. Then you have to crowdsurf your way into the venue where you will pay 30 bucks for a drink.

Then, when you get up to go to the bathroom, people on the Internet are yelling for you for not deserving the ticket you just moved the heavens to get hold of.

The truth is that these events no longer want real people on hand. Crowds of plebs are good for overhead drone shots, but a real pain when it comes to PR and logistics.

The only people they need are sponsors – because they pay for the show.

There is nothing more hilarious than the regular calls by fan advocates to get corporate phoneys out of sports and let the ‘real’ fans in.

How do you think the grand-slam sausage gets made? You think the All England Club is going to come up with US$49-million in prize money out of its membership dues?

If there are no corporate asses in hospitality seats, then they’re playing this thing in a public park and live-streaming it from an iPhone. You don’t like corporate domination of sport? The time to start complaining about that was the 1960s.

These two streams – the difficulty for regular people in procuring tickets and the increasing influence of sponsor money – have made the live experience something like spending a week at the Four Seasons. Most of us would like to try it, but few of us will ever do more than have a drink in the lobby.

What matters to tournaments and leagues is keeping that in-person dream alive. They no longer sell tickets to come here or places like it. They sell a dream about solving an expensive riddle that ends up with you finding tickets to come here. That’s what Wimbledon’s famous queue is – an emotional release valve.

Even those with five-figure jobs and vacation piggy banks could do it. It’s the same message they give young players – don’t stop believin’. Their odds of making it are only marginally better.

And if it doesn’t work out then, well, sorry. There was a delegation from Moet & Chandon in that day and they really love Wimbledon. Especially the dining room.