The All-India Tennis Association has decided to begin the process to procure Pakistan visas for the Davis Cup players and support staff. This indicates a softening in its stand for playing in Pakistan.
India’s Davis Cup tie against hosts Pakistan has been rescheduled for next month after the International Tennis Federation had turned down India’s request to shift the event to a neutral venue.
It has been learnt that the All India Tennis Association (AITA) won’t force any player to travel to Pakistan and is willing to send even a second-string team to avoid suspension, relegation, and fine by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
If the ITF itself shifts the tie to a neutral venue, all top players are expected to make themselves available except Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who is getting married on November 29, the opening day of matches.
The tie was originally scheduled to be held in Islamabad on September 14-15 but was postponed to November 29-30 by the ITF after a security review.
The AITA is consistently writing to the world governing body to shift the tie to a neutral venue, citing security concerns.
AITA’s office-bearers assembled at the DLTA for a meeting on Tuesday. It was decided in the presence of Mahesh Bhupathi to at least start the visa process and keep pushing for a neutral venue.
“We are waiting for a final decision from the ITF and accordingly will take a call but as of now we have to start the visa process,” AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee said.
ITF seems convinced, as of now, about the security situation in Pakistan after the Sri Lankan cricket team’s tour of the country.
A decision is expected on November 4 and depending on that the AITA will make a call. A few players and non-playing captain Bhupathi have already expressed apprehensions about traveling to Pakistan.
Bhupathi said the ITF must take responsibility for India’s traveling squad if it finds Islamabad safe to travel.
“Today’s (Tuesday’s) meeting was to decide what is the stance we are taking. AITA understands players’ apprehensions. They are also with the players. They also believe that somebody has to take responsibility for security, mainly the ITF. If the ITF wants us to board a flight to Islamabad, they should take the responsibility for security,” said the winner of 12 Grand Slam titles.
Sources privy to the discussions said that the AITA is not in a mood to defy ITF if the neutral venue is not provided.
“A lot can change in the next 20 days. But AITA has to send a team because AITA can’t afford to pay a hefty fine for forfeiting the tie. It could be at least Rs 1 crore. And the team will be suspended and then relegated. So it will take four years to be at the level where we stand today.
“This is not good for future generations of players. And let me tell you that not all players have refused to travel to Pakistan. There are players and people in support staff who may be willing to travel to Pakistan,” the source said.
It has been learnt that AITA had earlier prepared a list of 26 people – including players, support staff members and officials – for whom it would seek a visa. The AITA will have to begin the selection process afresh after November 4.
Prajnesh will surely be excused and it remains to be seen which players make themselves available. As of now, India is at a stage where if it beats Pakistan, which is the most likely result considering the strength of the hosts, the team will advance to the Davis Cup Qualifiers.
From Qualifiers, the Indian team has a chance to make the newly-introduced World Groups. But if the team forfeits the tie, India could be handed a suspension of one or two years and relegated to Asia/Oceania Group III.
In that scenario, it will take three-four years, depending on the quantum of suspension, to get back to the current position. “Will that be fair to future players?” asked an AITA official.