The fate of India’s Davis Cup tie with Pakistan scheduled for mid-September has come under a cloud following rising tension between the neighbours even as the national tennis association said it is mulling making an appeal for a neutral venue.
“The situation looks grave and it will not get better very soon. But till now, neither the sports ministry nor the ministry of external affairs has given us any instruction to not make the trip. Earlier, the sports ministry had given us its clearance. But the situation has changed post the Kashmir issue,” Hironmoy Chatterjee, secretary-general of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), told The Telegraph.
“We will wait and watch for a couple of days. After that we will appeal to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to review the situation in both countries and may settle for a neutral venue,” he added.
Chatterjee said the decision was best left to the ITF. “The AITA is not really in a position to say we will not go to Pakistan. The ITF then may impose sanctions on us. We may be suspended. So we
have to place it in their court. There is also the question of whether Pakistan will grant us visas. We had applied for visas before the Article 370 situation cropped up. At that point it had seemed just a formality. Now, I am not so sure,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood. Islamabad on Wednesday retaliated by expelling India’s high commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, suspended trade ties and said that its envoy, who was to start his assignment soon, would not move to New Delhi. On Thursday, Pakistan said it would suspend the Samjhauta Express that runs between New Delhi and Lahore.
Given the heightened tensions, the Davis Cup tie could well be the first sporting casualty. The two-day match, part of the Asia-Oceania Group 1 games, is scheduled to be held in Islamabad on September 14-15.
India captain Mahesh Bhupathi, who had earlier raised concerns about security in Pakistan but had then agreed to go to Islamabad following assurances given by both the ITF and the AITA, refused to comment on the current scenario.
Sources said that as things stand now, the ministry of external affairs will not interfere in the matter. Therefore, if the sports ministry does not withdraw the permission it had earlier granted, the tour can go ahead.
Sports minister Kiren Rijiju was not available for comment. An email sent to his office on the matter had not been replied to till late Thursday evening.
No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since 1964; bilateral cricket ties between the two countries have not taken place after the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
“Pakistan is used to playing in neutral venues, so it should not be a problem for them,” said AITA’s Chatterjee.
Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) president Salim Saifullah Khan said they will follow the ITF’s instructions. PTF secretary Khalid Rehmani said: “We really cannot comment on the tie right now. As far as we are concerned, all arrangements are ready. The ITF representatives too were happy with the security and other arrangements at the venue. But now, no one can say anything. Of course, for both countries, security of the players is of prime importance.”
Asked whether the Pakistan government has given any new instructions to the PTF regarding the India match, Rehmani said: “None so far. Officially, the match is still on. But it will depend on the ITF now.”
India coach Zeeshan Ali maintained that the team is prepared to travel to Islamabad. “See, as of now, the match is still scheduled to be held in Islamabad. Our players are keen and ready to play, but yes security must be assured,” he said.
Asked in case there is a change in venue, will the surface remain the same, Zeeshan said: “Not too many places will have a grass court available. But for our players, that will not be an issue. We are ready to play on any surface.”