The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has announced that India’s upcoming Group 1 Asia/Oceania Davis Cup tie against Pakistan, originally scheduled to be held in Islamabad, will now be held at a neutral venue.
“Following a review of the latest advice given by the ITF’s independent security advisors, the Davis Cup Committee has taken the decision that the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group I tie between Pakistan and India on 29-30 November 2019, must be played at a neutral venue,” the ITF said in a statement.
According to Davis Cup regulations, since Pakistan are the hosts, the Pakistan Tennis Federation has the choice to nominate a neutral venue, and has five working days to do so.
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The draw for the zonal clash was made back in February this year, and the tie was originally scheduled to take place in September. India named a strong team at the time, however, players concerned about their safety wrote to the All India Tennis Association (AITA), asking it to get the tie shifted out of Pakistan.
The national body, in turn, wrote to the ITF asking for a shift to a neutral venue or delaying the tie by two months. The ITF, despite initially rejecting both pleas, decided to move the tie to November 29-30, but the venue decision was to take place following the world body’s inspection on November 4.
In October, the AITA, at the behest of the players, wrote to the ITF again, this time asking for a neutral venue. The AITA bolstered its argument on the basis of the downgrading of diplomatic relations between both countries following the scrapping of Article 370 which revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status. AITA offered an eight-point rationale to back its demand.
According to rule 230.2.5 of the Davis Cup’s rule book, "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 war, political unrest, terrorism or natural disaster."
Late on November 4, the ITF declared that the tie will be shifted out of Pakistan.
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Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) President Salim Saifullah Khan termed the ITF’s decision unfortunate. “It’s politics in sports. It’s nothing but unfortunate,” Khan told PTI.
It is worth noting that in September, Pakistan played the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team for a series comprising three ODIs and three T20Is while two ITF Juniors tournaments were played in Islamabad in October (7-12 and 14-19). The Bangladesh women's cricket team and their U-16 side are in Pakistan currently, for a bilateral series.
Hours before the ITF’s decision, the AITA also announced that the chairman of the selection committee and former Davis Cupper Rohit Rajpal will serve as non-playing captain for the Indian team in place of regular captain Mahesh Bhupathi.
Bhupathi has been at the forefront of the player letter, expressing security concerns, written to the AITA earlier this year. He had, alongwith Rohan Bopanna, Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan made themselves unavailable for the tie should it take place in Pakistan. Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Divij Sharan were unavailable due to personal reasons.
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As a result, the AITA had drawn up a new list of players who made themselves available for the tie, which included veteran Leander Paes. But with the tie now not being held in Pakistan, the AITA confirmed that it will check with all the players about their willingness to play at the neutral venue and then select a team.
In the past, Pakistan has hosted Davis Cup matches in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Turkey, due to a 12-year ban the ITF had imposed on them for security reasons. Their choice of venue for the tie will be confirmed in the coming days.
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