Protesters chanting ‘end fossil fuels’ interrupt women’s US Open semi-final

Chaotic scenes as security struggle to eject activists, including a man who glued himself to the ground

The protesters delayed the match for more than 45 minutes
The protesters delayed the match for more than 45 minutes Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The US Open women’s semi-final was disrupted for nearly an hour after an environmental protester glued himself to the floor in the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Play was paused one game into the second set of Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova’s match when three people - two men and a woman - began shouting “end fossil fuels” from their seats. Though it was a simple form of protest, it turned out to be hugely effective in delaying the match for a total of 49 minutes.

That was in part due to the slow response by security. It took at least two minutes for a security guard to approach the group, asking them to leave. They defied orders and continued their chanting, at which point one of the men involved also gestured to his feet to show he had removed his shoes. It turned out he had glued himself to the concrete floor. N42soLenysA

It took six minutes from the point the protest started for his two co-conspirators to be removed from their seats by security, accompanied by chants of “throw them out” from the raucous New York crowd. 

The woman left silently, escorted by security, but the man was shouting back at members of the crowd who hurled abuse at him as he was pulled up the stairs by security. 

Another man, who had been sat next to the group but did not take part in the chant, was also asked to leave by security. All three were taken into police custody.

But the remaining protester was in it for the long haul due to his drastic decision to physically glue himself to the floor.

A total of 12 New York Police Department officers were called to the scene and three of them knelt at the man’s feet, applying what looked like a rubbing alcohol with tissue paper in order to peel his feet from the concrete.

There was confusion on court and Gauff was questioning why it was taking so long.

“Are they like talking to them or are they going to remove them?” Gauff asked chair umpire Alison Hughes and tournament referee Jake Garner.

She then spoke to her coach, Brad Gilbert, saying “they say they are negotiating, like it’s a hostage situation. What should I do?”

Gilbert was then heard to shout at Garner: “This is a joke, Jake.”

It became apparent this was not going to be a quick fix and she and Muchova exited the court via the tunnel.

Police swarm the climate protester Credit: Shutterstock

It was a slow process to unstick the man’s feet and he was resolutely passive with police officers. At some points he pointed to his t-shirt - which said “end fossil fuels” - and did not resist police officers who handcuffed him. He was also unmoved by the abuse he was getting from the 23,000-strong crowd, including calling him a “loser”, “crazy” and booing him.

During the drama, the USTA released a brief statement: “NYPD are in the process of resolving a fan disturbance. Play will resume as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”

Thirty-five minutes after the protest began the man was finally removed by police and was escorted handcuffed and barefoot from his seat and out of the stadium. 

Police officers handcuffed the man Credit: Shutterstock

Gauff did well to refocus when she and Muchova returned to the court. They did a 10-minute warm-up, before Gauff closed out the match 6-4 7-5 to reach her first US Open final.

Afterwards, the USTA released the following statement: “Following the first game of the second set in the Gauff-Muchova match, play was halted due to a protest conducted by four spectators. 

“Three of the four protesters were escorted out of the stadium without further incident. The fourth protester affixed their bare feet to the floor of the seating bowl. 

“Due to the nature of this action, NYPD and medical personnel were needed in order to safely remove this individual from the stadium. The four protesters were taken into NYPD custody. In total, 49 minutes elapsed before play resumed.”

The incident raises questions as to how the man managed to smuggle glue onto the grounds in the first place and why it took so long for security to arrive.

This was a predictable scenario. Sports events have been targeted by environmental activists in recent months, including the Ashes Test at Lord’s and Wimbledon. At Wimbledon, Just Stop Oil protesters disrupted two matches, including one which involved British No 1 Katie Boulter, by invading the court and throwing orange confetti and puzzle pieces on the grass. Three people were arrested.

Due to the frequency of these incidents, Gauff said she anticipated this on the morning of her semi-final. “The crazy thing is that this morning I told myself: ‘I bet there is going to be a climate change protest in the final’. I didn’t think it would be in the semi-final,” she told ESPN after her match. 

Coco Gauff reacts as protesters interrupt the match Credit: Shutterstock

“Immediately when it happened, I told the ref it was a protest. And out of the court I was talking to Karolina and she said: ‘How did you recognise it was a protest so fast?’

“And I said: ‘I don’t know - something this morning told me that it was going to happen this weekend but I thought it was going to be in the final’. And I just treated it like a rain delay. 

“The only thing that was harder was that we had to leave the court. We didn’t know. The security guard said it could be five minutes or it could be an hour so we didn’t know how to warm up and prepare. I didn’t know whether to eat or not. I just treated it like a rain delay to be honest.

“I just felt like something was going to happen this weekend because they did it at the French Open, they did it at Wimbledon. So I was like: ‘Nothing has happened at the US Open yet.’ I was thinking: ‘Well, maybe the trend will continue so that is what I was thinking about.’”