After days of dilly-dallying, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has finally put its foot down.
The tennis body on Wednesday asked the world governing body, International Tennis Federation (ITF), to either postpone the Davis Cup tie against Pakistan in Islamabad or take it to a neutral venue ‘suo moto’, given the current diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Earlier, the national federation had merely asked for a security re-check, which had irked the Indian Davis Cup team. They had demanded that the tie against Pakistan in Islamabad next month be shifted to a neutral venue.
Now, with the AITA making its intentions clear, the ball is in ITF’s court. The AITA wants the ITF to take a call based on the current situation.
Here’s a list of reasons the ITF should keep in mind before deciding on the fate of the Asia Oceania Zone 1 tie, on 14-15 September:
Complete Breakdown of Diplomatic Relations
Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India after the latter effectively abrogated Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, which gave special status to the state, and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.
Since then, the Indian Ambassador has been asked to leave Islamabad; train and bus services between the two nations have been snapped with immediate effect; and the Pakistan airspace, which had reopened for a brief period, has once again been closed for Indian aircraft.
The Pakistani political clan has been critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So, amid this undercurrent of tension between the two nations, it won’t be ideal for the Indian team to visit Pakistan – be it for diplomatic or safety reasons.
Indian Contingent Reluctant to Travel
India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi has already said that the players are “not comfortable” in travelling to Pakistan, at a time when the bilateral relations between the two nations have, once again, taken a turn for the worse.
"“We have asked AITA to request for a neutral venue.” " - Mahesh Bhupathi, Team India’s Non-Playing Captain
The team was unhappy when AITA had earlier asked only for a security review, disregarding the views of the Indian contingent – who wanted the tie to shifted to a neutral venue.
In fact, AITA had said that it would go ahead with the visa formalities if the tie was cleared by the ITF, following a fresh security check.
With such a hostile environment prevailing in Pakistan since the revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, security will always be concern for an Indian citizen traveling to the neighbouring country.
India’s Demand Not Unprecedented
In 2001, a Davis Cup tie between India and the USA in North Carolina was postponed in the wake of the 9/11 terror strike in New York.
"“Although there was no further security threat in USA or at North Carolina, where the Davis Cup tie was to be held, it was decided by the ITF considering the overall mood in USA that it will not be appropriate to go ahead with the tie.”" - Hironmoy Chatterjee, Secretary General, AITA
The federation had set an example at that time which conveyed a clear message – that threat perception is not the only reason to postpone a tie or move it to a neutral venue.
Similarly, the recent developments have led to an atmosphere which is not suitable for a tie between the two teams and the ITF should tread a similar path, as it did 18 years ago.
"“ITF will be seen as an Institution which is trying to build bridges of friendship and maintaining equity while dealing with nations, whether it be USA or nations in South Asia.” " - Hironmoy Chatterjee, Secretary General, AITAWhat Goes in Pakistan’s Favour
Meanwhile, resumption of sporting ties or India traveling to Pakistan for a sporting event is something that all sports fans have been praying for, for a long time.
No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since 1964 and bilateral cricket ties between the two countries have been stagnant since the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai.
Pakistan Tennis Federation, meanwhile, has assured that everything is being done to ensure that all security measures are in place ahead of the Islamabad tie. In fact, they even said that the military will also help with security, as far as India’s visit is concerned.
Add to this the fact that sporting event have slowing been making a return to Pakistani soil off late. In the last two years, Pakistan has hosted Iran, South Korea, Thailand and Uzbekistan for Davis Cup ties.
Return of Cricket
Last year, even cricket made a comeback to Pakistan when West Indies played three T20Is in Karachi. Before that, Zimbabwe had toured Pakistan for two T20Is and three ODIs in May 2015, but all matches were played at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
Prior to 2018, the last time an international cricket match was played at the National Stadium in Karachi was in February 2009, when Sri Lanka had toured Pakistan. The series was cut short, following an attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team.
All this time the Pakistan cricket team have been based out of UAE, where they have been playing their home matches.
In the meantime, the only cricket taking place on Pakistani soil has been the Pakistan Super League, which is in its fourth year. After the first season in 2016, which was hosted entirely in the UAE, the following seasons have seen some matches being played in Pakistan.
The last edition saw around eight matches being played in Pakistan with many international cricketers travelling to the country.
For upcoming season, the Pakistan Cricket Board is even planning to host the entire Pakistan Super League in Pakistan.
With life slowly returning to normalcy in Pakistan, as far as sports in concerned, the current diplomatic standoff with India will surely be a dilemma for sportspersons, fans as well as authorities.
(With inputs from PTI)
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