ITF agrees to Indian demand, Davis Cup moved out of Pakistan

Nitin Sharma
Davis Cup captain Rohit Rajpal (left) with AITA life president Anil Khanna at the CLTA premises in Chandigarh. (Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has made a decision and announced that India’s upcoming Group 1 Asia/Oceania Davis Cup tie against Pakistan, originally scheduled to be held in Islamabad, will now be organised 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.

“The ITF and Davis Cup Committee’s first priority has always been the safety of athletes, officials and spectators and the decision was made on this basis. As per the Davis Cup Regulations, the Pakistan Tennis Federation now has the choice to nominate a neutral venue and has five working days to confirm their proposed venue. The venue will be announced once the choice has been submitted and approved.”

Earlier last week, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju, at The Indian Express Idea Exchange, had asserted that a decision to play a tie against Pakistan must be taken based on national sentiment.

“We are taking decisions in such a way that the sentiment of our country is maintained. At the same time we will also take into account (the rules) of international bodies so that it does not lead to an ugly situation… We will take a balanced stand on such issues,” he had said.

The ITF though has made clear that the tie will no longer happen in Pakistan.

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 had named a strong team at the time, however, the downgrading of relations between the two countries following the Kashmir issue in August prompted the Indian players to write to the AITA asking for the tie to be 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 shift 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 again wrote to the ITF this time asking for a neutral venue. Late on Monday the ITF declared that the tie will be shifted out of Pakistan. “The decision is a positive thing for Indian tennis,” said AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee to The Indian Express.

“Since Pakistan is the host, they will decide in five days about where to hold the tie. The dates of the tie will be the same and the Indian team will be finalised in a day or two and preparations will start.”

Hours before the ITF’s decision came through, the AITA announced that the chairman of the selection committee and former Davis Cupper Rohit Rajpal will serve as non-playing captain for the Indian team for this tie in place of regular captain Mahesh Bhupathi.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion, who was appointed non-playing captain in 2017, along with players Rohan Bopanna, Sumit Nagal and Ramkumar Ramanathan had made themselves unavailable for the tie should it take place in Pakistan, due to security concerns, while Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Divij Sharan were unavailable due to family reasons. As a result, the AITA made 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 asserts it will check with all the players about their willingness to play at the neutral venue and then select a team.

“Prajnesh and Divij had opted out of the tie due to family reasons, and regarding the other three players namely Sumit, Ramkumar, and Rohan, the committee will meet and take the decision. We will discuss with the players too and their concerns. Regarding Mahesh, the captain has been already been decided for this tie and there will be no change in that,” Chatterjee added.

The hosts are expected to submit their request for potential venue in the coming week. In the past, Pakistan has hosted Davis Cup matches in the likes of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Turkey, due to a 12-year ban the ITF had imposed on them due to security reasons. The ban was lifted in 2017 and Pakistan had been hosting matches in Islamabad, where they were expected to organise the upcoming tie as well.

But the ITF has made the decision that what was to be India’s first trip to Pakistan in 55 years for Davis Cup will not happen this time.