An empty Davis Cup gesture
Not many have welcomed Sweden’s decision to host their first round tie against Israel behind closed doors but it is the sort of situation Andy Ram and his fellow Israelis are fast becoming used to.
Until two weeks ago, Ram, a doubles specialist, could easily slip in and out of a tournament unnoticed but has suddenly had to get used to having an army of bodyguards surrounding him whenever he steps on to a tennis court.
The UAE, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel and routinely denies entry to its citizens, was forced to change its policy of barring Israeli athletes entry into the Gulf state after the worldwide condemnation it received for excluding Shahar Peer earlier this month from a women’s event.
While it came as little surprise that Ram was surrounded by heavy security when he participated in the Dubai Championships, eyebrows have been raised by Sweden’s stance.
International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti hoped Swedish authorities would reconsider their decision to stage the March 6-8 tie in Malmo in an empty arena.
“The security plan already submitted by the Malmo police and the efforts of the two tennis associations would be enough to allow the tie to take place under normal circumstances,” said Ricci Bitti.
“Therefore we do not agree with the decision by the Malmo authorities to exclude the public, and even at this late date, maintain our request that the decision not to allow spectators be reconsidered.”
However, this is not the first time Sweden has taken such a step.
In 1975, an inter-zonal tie against Chile was also staged behind closed doors in Bastad.
Thirty four years after officials feared protests against the Pinochet regime in Chile could mar the tie, Swedish authorities feel security could be compromised in Malmo as demonstrations are being planned against the three-week Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip which killed 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.
Swedish police said around 1000 police officers would be on duty at the Baltic Hall.
American Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said it was “disappointing” that fans would not be able to cheer on their teams.
“I don’t think you should let a couple of fanatics dictate having an event open to the public. If there are some security concerns (you would like) to see the home country address them… you take extra precautions if you need to,” McEnroe said.
“You certainly don’t want to see something like that take place in an event like the Davis Cup that we should all remember came into existence to promote friendship between countries. That’s what it’s really about.
“Two countries playing in the right spirit, that to me is what Davis Cup is all about.”
It is a message that Sweden should take on board, especially since Ram’s appearance in Dubai this week went without incident.
PHOTO: Andy Ram of Israel reaches for the ball during a doubles match in Dubai, Feb. 25, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah