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To be or not to be? India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie faces several criticism and controversy

India-Pakistan Davis Cup tie in an Asia/Oceania group encounter is in a fix. In the nine months since the tie was announced, it has faced diplomatic, political and administrative quandary.  

In the second week of February, after India were relegated to the zone group by losing the World Group play-offs to Italy, the India-Pakistan tie in an Asia/Oceania group encounter was announced. As soon as it was announced, there were questions about whether India would travel to Pakistan. But India had to send a team to Pakistan as Tennis is an Olympic sport and this type of no-show would have lead to heavy penalty in the form of suspension by International Tennis Association (ITA).

On 14th February, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel died in the attack. This incident led to a heightened political tension between India and Pakistan. Darkness loomed large on the sporting equation between the two countries. In this scenario, the Indo-Pak tie also seemed to be impossible.

But somewhat the matter soon died down and in June, it was reported that India was likely to travel to Pakistan after 55 years. India last played Tennis in Pakistan on March 1964 while Pakistan had last played tennis in India back in 2006. The ITF sent an inspection team to Islamabad and they gave a clear certificate for holding the tie on September 14 and 15. But India’s non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupati was not too much satisfied with the venue. He wrote a letter to AITA that was replied by them. AITA also announced a full-strength team with all the top singles and doubles players.

But when the Indian government revoked the special state status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Davis cup tie status again took a new turning. AITA then requested the ITA for a neutral venue. The international body tried to make AITA understand the situation but due to circumstance agreed to postpone the tie till November. The new dates for the tie were fixed as November 29-30 but the venue remained the same. Non-playing captain Bhupathi, top doubles player Bopanna and top singles players like Ramkumar Ramanathan, Sumit Nagal, Sasi Kumar Mukund said they are not comfortable travelling to Islamabad. India No 1 in singles Prajnesh Gunneswaran and doubles Divij Sharan had also said they are not available for the tie due to personal reasons.

Thus, AITA, in order to get the visas ready, chose another team with the players ready to play in Pakistan, which included veteran Leander Paes. Even there was a change in captaincy as chairman of selectors Rohit Rajpal was named the non-playing captain of the side for the tie in Pakistan. A few hours after this announcement, the ITA announced a neutral venue for the tie citing the safety of players and officials. It was a relief for the AITA but they faced heavy criticism about their policy of chosing players. Former player Somdev Devvarman and senior doubles player Bopanna lashed out at AITA for not informing the players before announcing the new non-playing captain. Mahesh Bhupati also issued a statement that he was not informed about his removal from the post of non-playing captain. The decision of ITA did not go down well with the Pakistan Tennis Federation. They had decided to appeal against the decision to shift the Davis Cup tie against India to a neutral venue.

In response, AITA CEO Akhouri Bishwadeep said that the change in captaincy happened because the ITF had not given the impression that it will move the Davis Cup tie out of Islamabad. As Bhupathi was not keen on travelling, they approached Rajpal who agreed without any condition.

About Poulomi Kundu

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