Questioning the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for not considering “ground realities” while refusing to move next month’s India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie in Islamabad to a neutral venue, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has asked the world body for a meeting to force a rethink.
The move comes on a day when India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi said that the players were “not comfortable” in crossing the border at a time when bilateral relations have deteriorated after India’s decision to revoke special status for Jammu and Kashmir.
Speaking to The Indian Express, AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee said: “The ITF is just not able to understand the risk involved and the tensions that are there between the two countries. There is a problem with air space, railway lines have been blocked and roadways have been snapped, we have no ambassador in Pakistan. And now, the Prime Minister of Pakistan has likened the Prime Minister of India to (Adolf) Hitler. How can the ITF not take these into consideration? In no condition is it safe for the team to travel.”
Chatterjee was referring to comments posted by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan onTwitter.
The Indian players, meanwhile, have refrained from speaking on the issue. Asked about travel plans for the Davis Cup, Bhupathi was cryptic: “Is anyone from India allowed to travel to Pakistan?” Later, PTI quoted him as saying: “We have asked AITA to request for a neutral venue.”
AITA secretary Chatterjee said the national body was behind the players. “We are on the same page as our players and under no circumstance do we want to risk their lives. We have told the ITF that their agency has checked the security only at the venue. They have not understood the ground realities. We have asked for a meeting with them to explain the situation and ask for a neutral venue… or postpone the tie by two months,” he said.
At the same time, Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju’s stand of leaving the decision to travel to Pakistan to AITA hasn’t gone down well with the tennis fraternity. On Monday, the Minister had said that since Davis Cup was an event hosted by ITF, the government can’t stop players from travelling to Pakistan.
“How can the AITA take such a call, only the government knows what the exact situation is in Pakistan. They should decide, and they are responsible for players’ safety” said a former player, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Pakistan Tennis Federation, meanwhile, said they are putting in place tight security measures for the Indian team.
“When we hosted Iran, South Korea, Thailand and Uzbekistan, the security we put in place was not much compared to what we have organised for the Indian team. We have got the military involved and we have left no stone unturned in these arrangements. Islamabad is anyway a safe city, it’s our capital, but we have put in a lot more measures than what we had before,” PTF vice-president and former Davis Cup player Rashid Malik told The Indian Express.
Reuters adds: Tennis chiefs are satisfied with the current safety plan in place for next month’s Davis Cup tie between Pakistan and India in Islamabad even after the latter asked for another round of security assessment.
“Safety and security are the ITF’s highest priority,” the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said in a statement to Reuters. “We are working closely with the host nation and independent expert security advisors – the ITF is satisfied with their current security assessment of the site and the security plan in place. The overall security risk rating for Pakistan has not changed, however, we will continue to monitor the situation closely with our advisors.”