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Fresh safety plea on tennis tie in Pakistan

Sports minister Kiren Rijiju said the Davis Cup is not a bilateral engagement

By Elora Sen in Calcutta

  • Published 13.08.19, 4:11 AM
  • Updated 13.08.19, 4:11 AM
Prajnesh Gunneswaran
Prajnesh Gunneswaran (The Telegraph file picture)

Will India’s Davis Cup team go to Pakistan to play their Asia Oceania Group 1 tie on September 14-15? That question is still hanging in the balance, with Pakistan downgrading its diplomatic ties with India following the abrogation of Article 370.

However, on Monday, sports minister Kiren Rijiju said the government will not have any say on whether India should participate or not, since the Davis Cup is not a bilateral engagement. That leaves the participation in the tie in Islamabad strictly in the All India Tennis Association (AITA)’s court, which, in turn, has written to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to review the situation.

“If it is a bilateral sporting event, then whether India will play with Pakistan becomes a political decision. But Davis Cup is not bilateral and is organised by a world sporting body (ITF),” Rijiju said on the sidelines of an event of the ministry of youth affairs in New Delhi.

“Since India is a signatory to the Olympic charter, the government of India or the national federation do not have a say on whether India will participate or not,” he added.

The AITA wrote to the ITF on Monday, stating that while the India team is eager to travel to Pakistan for the tie and the Indian government is clear that the Olympic charter should be followed, the safety of the players must be the responsibility of the ITF.

“We have written to the ITF to review the situation once more,” Hironmoy Chatterjee, AITA secretary general, told The Telegraph on Monday. The AITA was keen to play in a neutral venue, if the current scenario did not prove conducive for the tie to take place in Islamabad.

In his email to the ITF, addressed to Justine Albert, who is one of the executive directors, Chatterjee wrote: “Government of India has asked us to follow the Olympic Charter. It has, however, been clearly stated by AITA to the Government and to the players that the ITF has taken full responsibility for safety and security of the players and the stakeholders. We are aware that you had done a safety check before the diplomatic ties have been downgraded. ITF may find it appropriate to do another check to its own satisfaction to ensure the safety of all the stakeholders connected with the tie.”

He added in the email: “In case ITF in consultation with PTF (Pakistan Tennis Federation) is not 100 per cent sure about the safety of the stakeholders, ITF may advise us the future course of action and AITA will respectfully follow the decision of the ITF.”

Asked what the AITA’s stance will be if the ITF insists that Islamabad is safe enough for the Davis Cup match to take place, Chatterjee said: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it. Let them first respond to my email.”

The PTF had on Sunday stated that they were ready to host the tie.

Asked whether a neutral venue may be considered for the tie, the ITF told this paper on Monday: “Safety and security are the ITF’s highest priority. 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.”

The ITF had also earlier advised the AITA that in case it had further concerns, it should officially write to the ITF for a review.

Chatterjee said on Monday that the AITA will follow the ITF directives and even under the tense scenario, the India squad was ready to travel to Pakistan.

No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since 1964. The current squad, with Mahesh Bhupathi as captain and Zeeshan Ali as coach, features Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Saketh Myneni, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan. All of them had made themselves available for selection.

Bhupathi, who had initially raised questions over security, had agreed to make the trip after the ITF gave Islamabad the green light.

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