India’s trip to Pakistan for the Davis Cup tie in September is likely to get the government’s go-ahead. A day after the neighbours were drawn to face each other in the Asia/Oceania Zone Group I tie, the sports ministry and All India Tennis Association (AITA) officials said they do not foresee any hiccups in sending the team since ‘the Davis Cup is the World Cup equivalent of tennis and not a bilateral affair.’
A sports ministry official said they will seek advice from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on the political and security situation in Pakistan but the final decision will rest with them. "There shouldn’t be any problem as things stand now. Davis Cup is the World Cup of tennis. Not competing in it will lead to sanctions and we do not want that scenario to arise. Hence, if AITA submits a proposal to send a team to Pakistan, the government should clear it," the official said.
Bilateral sporting relations between India and Pakistan have come to a standstill since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. However, there have been a few occasions when athletes from the two countries have squared off in various international tournaments. Most recently, Pakistan’s hockey team travelled to India for the World Cup in Bhubaneswar last December.
AITA secretary general Hiranmoy Chatterjee said it is ‘mandatory’ for India to play this tie. "Pakistan had come here for the South Asian Games (2016) and for the hockey World Cup. Now we have to go there for the tennis World Cup," he told The Indian Express. "We (India and Pakistan) are both members of the International Olympic Committee, and based on the Olympic Solidarity Programme, it is mandatory for all members to participate."
Chatterjee added that AITA will apply for the visas in the coming months and expressed confidence of getting clearance from the government. No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since March 1964. Back then, India had blanked their neighbours 4-0 in Lahore. However, the last time India were drawn to play Pakistan in Pakistan-in 1973-the match was held on a neutral venue. As per International Tennis Federation regulations, a tie can be played at a neutral venue in the cases of ‘war, political unrest, terrorist or natural disaster.’
"Till the ITF said Pakistan was not a safe venue, they were hosting their home ties at neutral venues. But a few years ago the ITF cleared them and other teams have gone there to play, last year South Korea and Uzbekistan went. Now we too will go," Chatterjee said. "We will apply for the visas and only the Pakistan Embassy will tell us if we can go. Our government will clear it because this is for sport."
The sports ministry official concurred with Chatterjee’s views and said they did not want to put AITA in a position where they would be forced to pay a fine or face any other sanction for a no-show. "A final call will be made in consultation with the MEA closer to the match. We will take it forward as and when we receive details from AITA," the official said. Chatterjee, on his part, was positive. "If there is a problem then we will sort it out," he said.