The rapid deterioration of diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan over the last few days has now left the upcoming Davis Cup tie, to be held in Islamabad in September, in serious doubt. The Indian team was scheduled to travel to Pakistan for the first time in 55 years to compete in the tournament, but with tensions escalating across the border, the governing bodies of the sport from both countries want the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to intervene and save the tie — even if it necessitates finding a neutral venue.
“The overall security risk rating in Pakistan has not changed and we will continue to monitor the situation with our advisors,” the ITF Communications team replied to a query by The Indian Express. “Safety and security are our top priority. The ITF works closely with the host nation and an expert independent security advisor. Thorough security assessments have been conducted for all Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties.”
In July, the ITF had sent a two-man team to Islamabad to assess the security and lodging conditions organised by the hosts, and subsequently cleared the preparations. The Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) maintains that high safety standards prevail in Islamabad, but will accept the final decision by the ITF.
“It’s too early to say that it’s time to shift the tie to a neutral venue. But if the ITF feels that it is better to shift the tie, we have to follow the instructions of the parent body. But as of now I don’t see any reason to shift the venue,” PTF president Salim Saifullah Khan told the Press Trust of India. “Islamabad is still safe. The tension has definitely escalated but it can de-escalate as well. For us also safety and security of the players is paramount. Winning or losing does not matter, safety is most important.”
The AITA, in turn, is considering writing to the ITF asking for a change in venue.
“We will wait for another two days to see how the situation develops between the two countries before we write to the ITF,” says AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee. “The matter has become very sensitive with the whole Kashmir issue coming up in the last few days. If there is no improvement and the situation is not conducive for us to travel, we will write to the ITF asking for the tie to be held at a neutral venue.”
Davis Cup ties at the Group levels are held on a home-away basis. The ITF, though, does consider the relationship between two opposing countries, and if deemed necessary, shift the tie to a neutral venue.
According to the Davis Cup regulations: “A Nation with Choice of Ground may lose its choice at any time if the Davis Cup Committee considers that it is not possible or practicable for the opposing Nation to reach or play at the venue chosen for the Tie, due to (for example) an incident such as war, political unrest, terrorism or natural disaster.”
In the last few weeks, the Indian sports ministry gave permission to the AITA to send a team to Pakistan. After the ITF’s clearance of the venue, India’s national tennis body confirmed that it would send a team, and subsequently announced the five-man squad.
“We have also started the visa process. The PTF has given us the letters and the visa forms, which we have given to the players to fill in. So from our side we were prepared to go, but we will have to see how things pan out in the next few days,” Chatterjee says.
“We will definitely not say that ‘we will not play the tie’ because that will just provoke the ITF to issue sanctions against us,” Chatterjee says.
“Pakistan anyway has held many ties on neutral venues in the past. We will have to ask the ITF to assess the situation and reconsider their decision to have the tie in Pakistan.”
In 2017, the ITF had lifted a 12-year ban on Davis Cup ties being held in Pakistan due to security concerns. Since then, Pakistan has hosted Iran, Thailand, South Korea and Uzbekistan. Hong Kong however, refused to travel to Islamabad in 2017 and were subsequently relegated to a lower group and slapped with a fine by the ITF.
This however, is the first time India is scheduled to travel to Pakistan since 1973. On that occasion though, tensions were still high between the two countries since it had been less than two years after the end of the 1971 Indo-Pak War. The tie was instead held at a neutral venue, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The last time India did travel to Pakistan for Davis Cup though was in 1964.
India were drawn to play their neighbours for the seventh time back in February. A few weeks back, though, the non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi had reportedly written to the AITA voicing player concerns over security arrangements in Pakistan.