On the eve of the All India Tennis Association’s (AITA) meeting with the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Pakistan’s Davis Cup spearhead Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi has slammed the Indians for making “lame excuses” to avoid travelling to Islamabad for the Asia/Oceania Group I tie next month.
It’s been a tumultuous fortnight for both countries since the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir off its ‘special status.’ With the neighbours downgrading diplomatic ties, the Indian federation and its players have been at loggerheads with the ITF over playing the tie in Pakistan. The AITA had requested the ITF for either a neutral venue or a postponement of the tie, only for the world body to shoot down both requests.
The meeting on Monday is to discuss security arrangements for the Indian team in Pakistan for the September 14-15 tie, and for another push by India at moving the tie to a neutral venue.
“Our sports and our people have had to suffer for the last decade or so when ITF had banned Davis Cup matches to be hosted by Pakistan,” Qureshi told Pakistani newspaper The Nation. “Now when the ITF security team has visited Pakistan and has shown satisfaction with the arrangements made by Pakistan government and the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) has assured that Indian delegation will get red box security, why are they making lame excuses?”
“If the Indian team doesn’t want to come to play in Pakistan, the ITF must simply apply its rules. The world has to realise the sacrifices people of Pakistan, armed forces of Pakistan and sportsmen of Pakistan have to make for war, which was always imposed on us. We are a sports-loving and highly peaceful nation and want to play sports and don’t believe in bringing politics into sports and expect the same from others… I haven’t contacted (Rohan) Bopanna and other Indian tennis friends yet, but if I have to talk to them, for the sake of tennis and country, I am ready to play my role. But I once again remind ITF and India that Pakistan should not be punished for others’ deeds.”
From 2005 to 2017, the ITF had banned Davis Cup ties from being hosted in Pakistan due to safety concerns. Once the ban was lifted, Hong Kong refused to travel to Islamabad for a tie and was consequently relegated to a lower Group and slapped with a fine by the world body. Earlier this month, AITA had selected a full-strength Indian team that included 39-year-old Qureshi’s former doubles partner Bopanna, with whom he had reached the men’s doubles final at the 2010 US Open. In singles, India has the services of top 100 player Prajnesh Gunneswaran (91), Ramkumar Ramanathan (180) and Saketh Myneni (250), and Asian Games men’s doubles gold medallist Divij Sharan (47) will partner Bopanna (39) for the doubles match.
Meanwhile, Pakistan will have to rely on two 39-year-olds, Qureshi (ranked 54 in doubles) and the unranked Aqeel Khan.
“As far as depth in the Pakistan Davis Cup team is concerned, we don’t have any cover for me or Aqeel. But like I said, even if I have to go through the pain barrier, I will do that and help Pakistan win the Davis Cup tie against India. My message for India and ITF is very clear. Come to Pakistan and feel the difference, and don’t bow down to unwanted pressure. I know the Indian team and their federation is facing huge pressure but they must fulfill their international obligations,” Qureshi added.
“India has a far better and balanced side than Pakistan and, on paper, are more than 100 per cent sure to win the tie. But we are never afraid of playing any given opponent. It would be a great occasion and a message to the international community that Pakistan and India are playing Davis Cup. They will never forget the hospitality and love given by the people of Pakistan and will feel like home and it will be good for the tennis and people of both countries as well.”
Meanwhile, the Indian players have been jittery about going to Pakistan, having twice written to AITA making their stand clear. And with relations between the two countries remaining sour, tennis is the last thing on the Indian players’ minds.