Australia lets down Indian fans

Australian Davis Cup team captain John Fitzgerald (left) gives instructions to Lleyton Hewitt. Fitzgerald and Hewitt did not want to play in India due to security reasons.-AP Australian Davis Cup team captain John Fitzgerald (left) gives instructions to Lleyton Hewitt. Fitzgerald and Hewitt did not want to play in India due to security reasons.

The Aussies have had the habit of chickening out at the slightest of provocations. In an increasingly conflict-ridden world, host cities of major events are forced to spend millions of dollars on security, though pull-outs from competitions under a perceived security threat are rare.

Australian Davis Cup

The decision of Tennis Australia to forfeit its Davis Cup tie against India, scheduled to be held in Chennai — May 8 to 10 — because of what it terms “unacceptable levels of risk”, is not only shocking but also condemnable.

After its plea for a change of venue was rejected by the Davis Cup committee and its appeal against that decision was turned down by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Tennis Australia resorted to this extreme step despite assurances of foolproof security by the Indian authorities and clearance from an ITF-nominated security agency.

Two weeks after the World Trade Center towers were brought down by airborne terrorists, an Indian Davis Cup team travelled via New York to play a Davis Cup tie against the United States in North Carolina.

Last January, some of the finest tennis players in the world had made light of the much-publicised 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai to compete in the popular ATP event in Chennai, and the English cricket team returned to complete a Test series in the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage.

After the Sri Lankan players were targeted in Lahore on March 3 the situation might have changed a little, but as ICC President David Morgan noted recently, there is a great deal of difference in the security scenario in India compared to that in Pakistan.

“So what about the fact that dozens of people are being killed along the campaign trail of the elections? A train was hijacked this week…Did the IPL move for no reason?” John Fitzgerald, the Australian Davis Cup captain, was quoted as saying.

IPL, a 59-match competition spread over eight venues, was moved out of India by the cricket authorities when some of the State governments backed out of security commitments because of the demands of General Elections.

A three-day Davis Cup tie in front of a few thousand spectators cannot be compared to the IPL. Yet Fitzgerald did just that, betraying a complete lack of understanding of the situation. The wider implications of the Australian pull-out, particularly in respect of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2010 World Cup hockey tournament, both scheduled to be held in New Delhi, and the 2011 cricket World Cup, need no re-emphasis.

Mercifully, Commonwealth and Olympic associations and international federations take a more pragmatic view of such issues. Australian swimming legend Dawn Fraser did not receive much support last March when she suggested that the Commonwealth Games be relocated following the Lahore incident.

The Aussies have had the habit of chickening out at the slightest of provocations. In an increasingly conflict-ridden world, host cities of major events are forced to spend millions of dollars on security, though pull-outs from competitions under a perceived security threat are rare. And the organisers of every major international sports event in India in recent times have taken all possible steps to make sure that players and fans feel totally secure at the stadiums.

Against this background, the latest pull-out has added another chapter to Australian petulance, probably at the cost of a one-year suspension from Davis Cup for one of the most successful nations in the history of the great competition. The ITF would be letting itself down if it fails to impose sanctions against Tennis Australia.