By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s Davis Cup tie against Pakistan at Islamabad this month must be played at a neutral venue after the latest advice from the International Tennis Federation’s independent security advisors, the world governing body said on Monday.
The Asia/Oceania Group I tie, originally scheduled for Sept. 14-15 in Islamabad, was postponed by the ITF to Nov. 29-30 following a security review amid political tensions between the bitter neighbors.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) had asked the ITF to shift the tie to a neutral venue.
“As per the Davis Cup Regulations, the Pakistan Tennis Federation now has the choice to nominate a neutral venue and has five working days to confirm their proposed venue,” the ITF said in a statement.
Pakistan expelled India’s ambassador and suspended bilateral trade and all public transport links with its neighbor in August after New Delhi removed “special status” from its portion of the contested region of Kashmir.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
They came close to a third in February after a deadly attack on Indian police by a Pakistan-based militant group resulted in air strikes by both countries.
The AITA had named a six-member squad in August for the tie against Pakistan but a couple of players and captain Mahesh Bhupathi had made themselves unavailable to travel to the neighboring country due to security concerns.
While the national governing body chose Rohit Rajpal in Bhupathi’s absence, they will soon name a new team for the tie with Bhupathi having made himself available again.
“We are very happy and welcome the ITF decision about the venue change,” AITA General Secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee told Reuters by phone. “We will wait for the PTF to choose the venue and then name our team.”
Pakistan was forced to host Davis Cup ties at neutral venues for more than a decade as teams refused to travel to the country citing security concerns.
They played their first home tie after a gap of 12 years against Iran in 2017, while Hong Kong were relegated and fined by the ITF after refusing to travel to Pakistan the same year.
An Indian tennis team last traveled to Pakistan in 1964 for a Davis Cup tie, defeating the hosts 4-0, while Pakistan lost 3-2 on their last visit to India in 2006.
Multiple doubles Grand Slam winner Bhupathi said it was great news and he was “of course available” to captain the side now that the tie has been moved out of Islamabad.
“I think it’s just a sensible decision with the current situation,” he said in a text message.
“Davis Cup is already a high pressure situation and having additional stress on security issues was not ideal for anyone.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)