Tennis and geopolitics are about to mix again as India and Pakistan have been drawn to play each other in the Davis Cup playoffs.
India was defeated by Italy in the World Group qualifiers, sending the country back into zonal play. This week's Davis Cup draw pitted it against its neighboring rival in an away tie in the Asia-Oceania group following the US Open.
If played as scheduled, it would be the first tie between the two nations held in Pakistan in the Open Era. India and Pakistan have regularly restricted sports competitions against each other on home soil because of politics and security concerns.
The All Indian Tennis Association is indicating that it will request government approval to travel to Pakistan to play the tie, where its higher-ranked team will be heavily favored to win.
"It's a good draw for us," said Indian captain Mahesh Bhupathi.
Both the federation and Indian government have suggested that approval could be given if there are no significant security developments.
"The [Ministry of External Affairs] MEA will have to look at it both from the political and security part...Nonetheless, the final call will be that of the sports ministry and, at this stage, we don’t see any problem," an unnamed government official told the Times of India.
If there are security concerns, the Indian federation could also request moving the tie to a neutral ground under ITF rules.
Pakistan had not been allowed to hold home ties for 12 years until the ITF changed its security assessment for the country in 2017. The Pakistan Tennis Federation had frequently protested the length of the ITF's restrictions, and when it was ordered to hold a 2013 tie on neutral grounds—and then disqualified because of unplayable court conditions at the location in Myanmar.
Since the restrictions have been lifted, Pakistan has held several Davis Cup ties. In addition, Hong Kong was fined a total of $15,917 when it refused to play in the country in 2017 because of security concerns.
But a tie against India holds heightened security concerns, representing another level of geopolitical significance.
Still, security challenges are nothing new for Davis Cup, which is played across the world and has more countries participating than any other sports competition. The 2015 final between Great Britain and Belgium was played under heavy protection following recent terror attacks, while both Ukraine and Israel had ties moved in 2014 in the wake of violent conflict.
India and Pakistan have played each other six times in Davis Cup, with the Indians winning all six meetings. The most recent was in Mumbai in 2006.
Their previous meeting before that was played on neutral ground in 1976, but would otherwise have been held in Pakistan based on the Davis Cup tradition of alternating ties between each country. The prior tie had been played in Patna, India in 1970.
The two countries played each other three successive years between 1962 and 1964, with the Indians hosting a tie in Poona in 1963 and Pakistan in Lahore in 1962 and 1964.
While the final round of Davis Cup now consists of several countries playing at a single location, lower level ties are still based on home and away competition.
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