By Sudipto Ganguly
(Reuters) – The inaugural edition of the multi-nation Fed Cup finals that were scheduled to be held in Budapest next month was postponed on Wednesday due to the coronavirus outbreak in a big blow to governing body International Tennis Federation (ITF).
The finals event, originally scheduled to take place from April 14-19 at the Laszlo Papp Sport Arena in Budapest, was postponed after Hungary banned public gatherings of more than 100 people indoors and 500 people outdoors.
“After careful consideration and close discussion with the ITF Board, the Local Organising Committee … it is with regret that the ITF has announced the postponement of the Fed Cup Finals,” the ITF said in a statement https://www.fedcup.com/en/news/317110.aspx.
The Fed Cup became the latest top-notch tennis tournament to be hit by the virus this week after the prestigious Indian Wells event was called off at the last minute because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus in Southern California.
The ITF said new dates for the Fed Cup will be announced only after it takes stock of the situation, but the governing body committed to hold the event in 2020.
After the launch of the rebranded Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in November, the ITF’s flagship women’s team event was poised for a similar change of format.
The old format, in which two teams emerged from the World Group to contest an end-of-season final, was cast aside.
It was replaced by a glittering week-long event in the Hungarian capital boasting $18 million in prize money – on a par with the men’s Davis Cup – featuring 12 nations with many of the world’s leading women players.
The competing players at the week-long event would have split $12 million with the rest going to federations.
“We are extremely disappointed to have to make this decision, but we will not risk the safety and welfare of players, captains, event staff or spectators,” ITF President David Haggerty said.
“This decision has not been made lightly.”
The Fed Cup playoffs, due to be held from April 17-18 in eight locations around the world, were also postponed.
The Fed Cup finals is an Olympic qualification event and the ITF said it was working with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to address any impact it would have on athletes’ qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
(Additional reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra and Toby Davis)