A Davis Cup tie between two South Asian neighbors assumes little importance in tennis' grand scheme of things. No world-beaters will be present when India meet Pakistan in Islamabad, or elsewhere in September, or in some near future. But this is an India-Pakistan tie, and that is as big as any other match-up. There will be blood and sweat, and most importantly politics. Tennis be blessed, it is now getting all the eyeballs thanks to the geopolitical tensions in the Indian subcontinent after the scrapping of Article 370.
The low-key Asia-Oceania Zone Group 1 tie scheduled for September 14 and 15 in Islamabad has managed to get the undivided attention of International Tennis Federation (ITF), which otherwise would have managed to gain only a fleeting glance from the parent body. But uncertainty looms large over the tie with the All India Tennis Association (AITA) seeking a neutral venue due to security concerns. Will it happened as planned? There’s no definitive answer as of now.
And casting aspirations on it is a 9/11-like ghost.
With the ITF standing firm on its call to go ahead with the scheduled tie while also blaming India adopting dilly-dallying tactics over visa issuance to the touring party, the AITF was forced to spell out latest developments in the Indo-Pak relationship.
In a strongly worded reply to Justine Albert (ITF Executive Director), AITA Secretary General of Hironmoy Chatterjee wrote that "We are disappointed with your comments. You need not worry about our arrangements to visit Pakistan. The tie is still more than one month away and visas to Pakistan for players and teams do not take more than a few days. We have enough time to apply for visas. If you have any information which is different from what has been the past practice, kindly let us know...”
In the previous correspondence, Albert expressed ITF’s satisfaction over the security arrangement. He wrote that the ITF is “satisfied that the risk mitigation strategies put in place by the Pakistan Tennis Federation are in accordance with ITF’s strict guidelines.”
"We have requested in our letter of yesterday that ITF needs to make 100% sure on the security of the stakeholders. You have stated in your email that “your independent security consultants on the ground are monitoring the situation on daily basis but they do not see any need to conduct another site visit. They are satisfied that the risk mitigation strategies put in place by the Pakistan Tennis Federation are in accordance with ITF's strict guidelines," Chatterjee continued.
Here are the eight points that the AITF has shared with ITF:
1. Pakistan has downgraded the diplomatic relations with India.
2. Indian Ambassador has been asked to leave Pakistan and we do not have an Ambassador any longer in Islamabad.
3. Trains between India and Pakistan have been stopped.
4. Bus service between India and Pakistan has also been stopped with immediate effect.
5. Pakistan media is not responding favourably to India.
6. There is a lot of undercurrent of tension in Pakistan.
7. Media reports indicate that a possibility of conflict cannot be ruled out.
8. Air space has also been shut off for Indian Planes.
In a separate email, Chatterjee reminded the ITF that in September 2001, India's Davis Cup Tie against the United States was postponed although there was no further security threat.
"This was a good decision keeping in mind the interest of the moods of the nations and the players. Good atmosphere is extremely important for Davis Cup ties.
"In this particular situation of India vs Pakistan Davis Cup Tie, Indian players and AITA had agreed to play the tie in Islamabad. In fact, our players were looking forward to the tie. The recent developments have resulted in an atmosphere which is not conducive for a happy friendly tie between the two teams which have immense respect for each other," Chatterjee wrote.
He also urged the ITF to play the role of an institution which should try “to build bridges of friendship and maintaining equity while dealing with nations whether it be USA or nations in South Asia.”
Sports minister Kiren Rijiju on Monday said that since the Asia Oceania Group 1 tie is not a bilateral series and the world body is involved in hosting of the Davis Cup, they can't stop tennis players from travelling to Pakistan.
But a section within the AITA was surprised that the Indian government was not ready to take a stand despite escalating tension between the two nations following recent scrapping of the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir.
"We understand that the Olympic charter does not allow government interference but this is a question of lives of the players. The government always jumps in when Indian citizens are trapped abroad and try to ensure their safe passage back to country," said an official on condition of anonymity.
"Are tennis players not citizens of India? How can the government risk their lives by not stopping them?" he asked.