By Saba Aziz
A highly anticipated Davis Cup tennis fixture between India and Pakistan this month has been moved from Islamabad to a neutral venue due to security concerns amid heightened political tensions over the disputed Kashmir region.
The decision by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) on Monday was condemned by the Pakistani side as “discriminatory” and “unfair”, but welcomed by the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
“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,” the sport’s world governing body said following an independent security review.
The two-day Asia/Oceania zone Group I fixture was originally scheduled for September, but was postponed to November almost two weeks after New Delhi downgraded the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Cross-border tensions between India and Pakistan have remained high since the August 5 move in the Muslim-majority region, which is still under a security lockdown and near-total communication blackout.
“As the political atmosphere between India and Pakistan is not conducive at the moment, we had made several requests for a change of venue to ITF,” Hironmoy Chatterjee, AITA’s secretary-general, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“The Davis Cup committee after assessment of the situation has taken the right call so that the tie can be played under a friendly atmosphere for both teams,” he said.
‘Hostage to politics’
ITF has given Pakistan five working days to submit their proposal for a new venue outside of the country for the November 29-30 event.
But the president of the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) told Al Jazeera they will appeal the decision.
“ITF is becoming hostage to politics,” Salim Saifullah said. “This is all politics, which is unfortunate.”
“We have a recourse to appeal, and we’ll give them valid reasons why it should not be shifted from Islamabad,” he added.
Pakistan last hosted India’s Davis Cup team in Lahore in March 1964, when the home team lost 4-0. The two sides last met in the international team event in 2006 in Mumbai where India edged Pakistan 3-2.
Pakistan had not hosted a Davis Cup in the country for 12 years due to security concerns after the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore.
The ITF gave the green light to host matches in 2017 and the country has held four Davis Cup ties since.
In July, ITF told Al Jazeera it was “satisfied with the arrangements”, following a site visit to Pakistan’s capital as part of a mandatory security risk assessment before all Davis Cup ties.
Pakistan’s top tennis player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi said he was “shocked” and “heartbroken” by the decision. “It’s really a lot of discrimination against Pakistan,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Once again, we are being penalised for something we haven’t done,” Qureshi said.
“This is going to affect Pakistan’s reputation again because I think it was a great opportunity for us to show how loving, caring and friendly we are as people and hosting the Indian team would’ve gone a long way in the future as well.”