The prospect of being sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) prompted the All India Tennis Association (AITA), the apex Indian tennis body, to agree to visit Pakistan for the Asia/Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie in September 2019. The tie – scheduled for 14th-15th September – would have been the first time since 1964 that India would have visited its neighbour and arch-rival to play the Davis Cup.
Up until last week, almost all details had been laid out. The venue had been decided – the tie was to be played on outdoor grass in Islamabad – and the visiting nation had announced its squad under the captaincy of Mahesh Bhupathi. And while security concerns remained a subject of discussion, they did not threaten any late-minute forfeiture of the tie.
The Cause of Problems, and the Aftermath
The Indian government’s decision to do away with a key article of the country’s constitution about its northern region of Jammu and Kashmir on 6th August, however, changed the dynamics of the Indo-Pak socio-political relationship yet again. On the said date, India’s home minister Amit Shah announced that Article 370 of the constitution would be abrogated. The Article, as it had come into effect in 1954 after being amended, gave Jammu and Kashmir special autonomy within the country’s geopolitical and social ambit. The Article was signed by the then ruler of the province Hari Singh who did not want to join either India or Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 after it gained independence from the British Empire.
Soon after India’s announcement, Pakistan – which regards Kashmir as its territory under Indian occupation – retaliated by snapping the existing diplomatic channels between the countries. It also approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) asking the UN body to take up the issue.
In India and globally, there is also fear that the Kashmir problem could thrust both nations into a war-like scenario yet again. Concerning sports, specifically tennis, in this case, the Indian tennis administration does not want its players to face any potential security threat in Pakistan on account of the altered landscape.
The AITA Stand
Yet, despite the worry of any possible breach of security, the AITA does not want to take any premature step vis-à-vis the tie either. On 9th August, when the author of this story spoke to the AITA, the association’s general-secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee said that the AITA was taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We are waiting for two more days,” said Chatterjee. “…I will wait for today because Saturday and Sunday, the ITF will be closed, so Monday (12th August), I will respond… (So) we will see the situation, how it turns in the next two days.”
Noting that the operations of the sole train service between the two nations had been stopped and the airspace between them had been closed by Pakistan, Chatterjee rued that the situation was “not very conducive at the moment”. According to him, if the diplomatic relationship between the sub-continental giants were to improve in the next couple of days, the Indian team would not fail to travel westwards.
“Thereafter (after two days), we will write to the ITF may be suggesting that looking at the situation they should (move the) tie to a neutral venue,” Chatterjee noted, emphasised that India was not considering forfeiting the tie at any cost. “We are very keen to play the tie because (it) is very important for us. There is a lot of difference at stake for them (Pakistan) and us. So, it is very important we play this tie.”
Finally, when asked if the AITA was worried about the ITF sanctioning Indian Davis Cup aspirations, Chatterjee unequivocally denied that the eventuality would come to that.
“It won’t come to that. It shouldn’t come to that because everyone knows the situation. The ITF also knows the situation,” he said before subtly punting the ball back onto the ITF’s side. “The ITF can’t put us into a situation where there is going to be a lot of anxiety. I don’t want that to happen. So, we will discuss it and will come to an amicable solution.”
Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics
After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.
Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics.
The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events.
Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.
“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”
The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.
“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”
In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).
Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.
“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”
Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.
The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th.
Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade
A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.
The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.
UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.
“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”
When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.
The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.
This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.
Davis Cup Finals To Become Three-City Event From 2021
Austria and Italy join Spain in hosting the finale of the men’s team competition.
The International Tennis Federation has approved a plan to transform the Davis Cup finals into a three-city event with it taking place over a longer duration.
Starting from 2021 the finals of the 121-year-old men’s team competition will be held across three European venues which are set to have ‘similar conditions.’ Madrid, who hosted the event back in 2019, will remain the location for both the semi-finals and finals. Additionally, Turin in Italy and Innsbruck in Austria will co-host the event with each of them staging two of the six groups, as well as one quarter-final.
The development is the latest change made by the ITF in partnership with Kosmos, who have pledged to invest $3 billion in the sport over a 25-year period. Kosmos is the key driving force being the recent transformation of the competition and was founded by footballer Gerard Pique.
“The proposals announced in January were aimed at providing a better schedule for players while bringing the competition to new audiences and improving the experience for fans. Following a thorough bid process, we are delighted to be able to confirm Innsbruck and Turin as co-hosts alongside Madrid. We are confident that, together, they will deliver an outstanding world championship event for players and fans alike.” ITF Senior Executive Director, Professional Tennis, Kris Dent, said in a statement.
As a result of Turin’s and Innsburk’s inclusion in the finals, the competition has been extended from seven days to 11 days. A total of 18 teams are set to take part in the finals which wasn’t held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From next year the number of teams will be reduced to 16. The ITF confirmed the schedule of tournaments will be issued in the ‘coming weeks.’
Former French Open champion Albert Costa says the two cities have been selected to ‘ensure a smooth transition’ between countries for players. Costa, who is Director of the Davis Cup Finals, has stressed that the conditions of each venue are similar to each other.
”We are very excited to bring the Davis Cup Finals to Innsbruck and Turin. Both cities submitted impressive bids that not only promise a world class experience for players and fans, but also include stringent measures to ensure the health and safety of all in attendance,” said Costa.
“It was important to find two European cities that were well connected to Madrid, with similar playing conditions, to provide a smooth transition for players travelling from other venues. With confirmation of the three venues, we are already working hard to offer the best possible event in 2021. We are also liaising closely with the Region of Madrid and the City Council as thanks to their support, Madrid remains as the main venue for this year.”
There are questions about if the move will be enough to attract the top names. Due to the extension, the event will result in the off-season being reduced by a week. A key period for many players who used it for training.There are also questions about the decision to launch a multi-county tournament this year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will each country having their own rules.
The Davis Cup finals are set to take place between November 25th and December 5th.
Venues of 2021 Davis Cup Finals
Madrid Arena, Madrid (ESP)
- Group A: Spain, Russian Tennis Federation (RTF), Ecuador
- Group B: Canada, Kazakhstan, Sweden
- Quarter-finals: Winner Group A v group runner-up; Winner Group B v group runner-up
- Semi-finals and final
Olympia-Halle, Innsbruck (AUT)
- Group C: France, Great Britain, Czech Republic
- Group F: Serbia, Germany, Austria
- Quarter-final: Winner Group C v Winner Group F
Pala Alpitour Arena, Turin (ITA)
- Group D: Croatia, Australia, Hungary
- Group E: USA, Italy, Colombia
- Quarter-final: Winner Group D v Winner Group E
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