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.”
Is Covid-19 Just An Excuse To Axe The 2020 Davis Cup Finals?
The decision to cancel the team event five months before it was set to start may be more complex than what officials are letting on.
On Friday the International Tennis Federation issued a statement to confirm that their two premier tennis team events will not be taking place this year.
The Davis Cup and Fed Cup tournaments have been delayed until 2021 due to the global uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the Davis Cup, it is only the 12th time in history a season has ended without a champion being decided since its birth in 1900 and the first since 1945. The teams that have qualified for the week-long finals this year will instead have to wait until November 2021 to battle it out for the title.
“This is a tough decision to have to make, but delivering an international team event on this scale while guaranteeing the health and safety of all involved ultimately poses too great a risk,” ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement. “It is a complex undertaking and we have made the decision now to provide certainty for players, national associations and fans.”
There are however some questions over why the ITF has made this announcement five months before the start of the tournament. Especially when both the ATP and WTA Tours are set to restart in August. Furthermore Madrid, where this year’s finals were scheduled to take place, will still host their premier combined event at the Caja Magica in September.
“It’s the inconsistencies that I find tedious. Two months before the Davis Cup was meant to be playing we are playing at the same venue in Madrid for the masters. In regards to the crowds there seemed to be a fair bit of social distancing at this event last year,” John Millman wrote on Twitter.
It appears that there could be a more substantial financial reason to postpone the Kosmos-backed event. Investment company Kosmos was founded by Gerard Pique and has pledged millions into the Davis Cup in a deal to help revamp it. French newspaper L’Equipe have quoted sources reporting that the event lost an astonishing 50 million euros in 2019, which was the first year where the new format took place. Furthermore, it has been reported that the decision to scrap November’s event will help save 18 million euros.
Furthermore, one senior figure at Tennis Canada has suggested that Pique had tried to do everything he could to prevent the tournament from taking place. Louis Borfiga, who serves as his country’s Vice President of High Performance, said he believes there has been no meetings with the federations prior to Friday’s announcement.
“While everyone is doing everything possible to try to replay, I have the impression that Piqué did everything to prevent the Davis Cup from taking place this year,” he said in a separate interview with L’Equipe.
“ They (Kosmos leaders) put forward health reasons, I hope they are the right ones. They are going to have the right role. There is nothing we can say about health.”
“When I read the official press release, I am surprised by one thing. It is Piqué who speaks first, and the president of the ITF (David Haggerty) after. That too is shocking.” He added.
Borfiga is not alone in this view. Back in March tennis player Nicola Mahut criticised Pique for not being more optimistic about holding the finals this year. The Spaniard had previously said he was ‘pessimistic’ about having the event without fans.
“The message he sent through his statements is: ” If Madrid is complicated and we cannot do it, well it will be cancelled and he will save some money.” Mahut commented.
According to Diario AS, the Madrid economy will lose in the region of 50 million euros due to the finals not being held. Furthermore, it is estimated that 600 jobs would have been created to support the running of the tournament from start to finish.
Gerard Pique’s Pessimistic Davis Cup Outlook Blasted By French Tennis Star
The football player has been urged to ‘put more energy’ in finding a solution for the event to take place in 2020.
Kosmos founder Gerard Pique has come under fire over his plans for the Davis Cup Finals later this year after recently casting doubt on the event taking place due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Pique, whose company helped finance the transformation of the 120-year-old team competition, recently admitted that he was doubtful that the event could go ahead if crowds weren’t allowed to attend. Last year was the first time the new format of the competition took place with 18 teams featuring in a week-long round-robin tournament which was won by host nation Spain.
“I’m a bit pessimistic, to have the Davis Cup with no fans is difficult,” Pique told Movistar.
“There is a lot of uncertainty. We are listening to what the sport’s ministry and the government are telling us about whether we’ll have the ability to have fans.”
All professional tennis tournaments have been suspended since March due to the Pandemic. Officials are hoping to be able to get the sport going again in August ahead of the US Open that is scheduled to take place. Although some have doubts about the chances of the Tour’s starting by then, including world No.43 John Millman.
Amid the ongoing uncertainty, French tennis star Nicolas Mahut has criticized Pique’s bleak outlook for this year’s Davis Cup finale. The 38-year-old has represented his country in 13 ties, including the 2018 final as well as the semifinals in two other years.
“We don’t have a lot of information. But as a player, you can just trust the official statements. And when I hear Pique, I’m extremely disappointed,” Mahut told L’Equipe.
Mahut has called on Pique to explore more options such as potentially relocating the event to another country if it would make it safer for the event to go ahead. Implying that he was his duty to do so after setting ‘to destroy the formula’ of the event. Critics of the revamp have accused Pique of ruining the traditional competition.
“I would like him to put as much energy into saving the Davis Cup that he has set up. That is to say, to find solutions for it to take place in Madrid or elsewhere, as he has set to destroy the formula that had been in place for over a hundred years,” he said,
“The message he sent through his statements, is: ” If Madrid is complicated and we cannot do it, well it cancels and I save some money. ” And it bothers me a lot compared to what has happened for more than a year. We don’t play with this competition. Maybe that suits it.”
Kosmos has signed a $3 billion 25-year deal with the ITF to acquire the rights for the Davis Cup Finals.
Davis Cup Finals In Doubt, Admits Gerard Pique
The Kosmos founder explains why he isn’t too optimistic about the team event going ahead later this year.
The chances of this year’s Davis Cup Finals taking place are still up in the air with one of the key figures involved in the competition openly saying that he is ‘pessimistic’ about its chances.
Football star Gerard Pique is one the driving forces behind the new format following a huge financial investment from his company Kosmos. Signing a 25-year deal with the International Tennis Federation worth in the region of $3 billion. Despite the significant investment, Pique admits that he has low hopes of the event taking place later this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All professional tennis tournaments have been halted since March.
“There is a lot of uncertainty, we try to be aware of what the government says regarding sports and to whether we can put spectators inside the Caja Magica,” Pique said during an interview with Movistar.
“I would say I am a bit pessimistic, because a Davis Cup without fans is difficult.
“I think that nobody at the moment has the certainty that we can put fans in or if it will have to be behind closed doors. As the days go by, I suppose we will have a little more clarity.”
Spain is currently in the process of relaxing some of their lockdown restrictions with tennis players being able to train at local facilities from next week. The country is following a four-stage plan with the hope that their premier La Liga football league will resume next month at some stage.
However, the issue for the Davis Cup is the limited number of fans that would be able to go to the tournament if it takes place. In more advanced stages of the plans, no more than 50 people can attend an indoor venue. Although the number could be increased by November, it will be a stark difference to 2019. Held at the Caja Magica, the total capacity of the premier court is 12,500 people.
Last year’s final saw Spain lift the title for the first time since 2011 after they defeated Canada in the final. The two teams are seeded third and sixth in this year’s draw.
The Davis Cup is scheduled to take place between November 23-29 in Madrid. The ATP, WTA and ITF will not restart their Tour’s until at least July 13th, however, there is speculation that the suspension will be extended in the coming weeks.
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