In “Anyone for tennis in Malmo?” we noted the prospective Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel that was at risk of being moved indoors because of security concerns. Now Peter Bodo blows the whistle at ESPN Blogs:
The decision by Sweden to hold the Davis Cup tie with Israel (next weekend) in Malmo, a city with a supercharged political atmosphere, was unfortunate, if understandable. What is not comprehensible is why the Swedish Tennis Federation or the International Tennis Federation (of which Sweden is a member) hasn’t stepped in to act on two important fronts as this tie approaches:
1. To diffuse the developing situation by moving the tie to a less dangerous location in Sweden — or elsewhere.
2. To ensure the safety of the players and protect the integrity of Davis Cup.
Here’s the problem: Malmo has a significant Muslim population and a left-leaning civic leadership that is angry at Israel. Therefore, they’ve decided to hold the tie behind closed doors — meaning, no spectators allowed — under the laughable claim that they can’t provide adequate security. Get this: The tie will be played in the easily controlled, indoor environment of the Baltic Hall, which has a capacity (4,077) smaller than that of some junior college gyms.
There can be only one reason for how this has come about: The town fathers in Malmo, and perhaps the leadership of the Swedish federation itself, desperately wants this tie to be controversial — wants to see it played behind closed doors, in order to somehow suggest that Israel is a pariah nation — thereby advancing anti-Israel sentiment.
Malmo is bracing for an influx of demonstrators against Israel, which also plays right into the hands of those who wish to embarrass Israel. What could be better, in terms of advancing the agenda, than having streets full of demonstrators and a visiting nation that can’t be allowed to show its flag? This is a crude and astonishing example of using the Davis Cup as a political football.
You have to be pretty naÃ¯ve to deny that it’s impossible to keep tennis and politics entirely apart. But you must try, and this is a case of everyone sitting on their hands as a huge storm gathers. The other day, U.S. Davis Cup captain Pat McEnroe was asked about this controversy, and this is part of what he said:
“I think you would like to see the match being played, and if there are some security concerns, you would like to see the home country be able to address them. I don’t think you should let a couple fanatics or whatever it is dictate having an event open to the public.
“We should all remember Davis Cup came into existence to promote friendship between countries. That’s what it’s all about. Obviously competition is huge, but at the end of the day, you respect your opponent and you respect playing for your own country and the countries you compete against. We’ve always tried … to accentuate that this is two countries playing in the right spirit. That’s, to me, what Davis Cup is all about.”
By allowing this tie to become so heavily and transparently politicized, the Swedish federation has lost its right to promote and stage it. The ITF must intervene, immediately, to threaten Sweden with suspension from Davis Cup if it doesn’t either move the tie or open the doors of the Baltic Hall to the public (and provide adequate security). Better yet, the ITF should take the tie from the Swedes and stage it itself, perhaps at a neutral site or in Israel.
We’re on the verge of witnessing one of the most outrageous and transparent political stunts in the history of tennis, and no matter how you feel about the tensions and events in the Middle East, allowing the Davis Cup to be used to advance such an obvious agenda is a dereliction of duty.
And that duty to preserve and protect the integrity of Davis Cup is primarily the job of the ITF.
Perhaps the Swedes are intent on adding luster to the reputation they have earned with their history of “neutrality,” now verging on surrender.
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