Davis Cup overshadowed by politics
Series between Sweden and Israel overtaken by security and protest fears.
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2009 17:00 GMT

 Israel's Davis Cup team players Dudi Sela and Andy Ram at the Baltic Arena in Malmo [EPA]
Veteran Thomas Johansson is likely to return from injury as Sweden faces Israel in a Davis Cup series to be held amid intense security and no fans.

The 2002 Australian Open winner was left out of Sweden's preliminary line-up because of a foot injury, but has been practicing with the team all week and appears fit to play.

"If he doesn't get re-injured, he'll play on Friday,'' assistant coach Joakim Nystrom told Swedish Radio on Wednesday.

Johansson's return would be a big boost for the Swedes, who are missing their top-seeded player, Robin Soderling, due to injury.

Politics on the agenda

Sweden previously called up Bjorn Rehnquist and Daniel Berta, who have never before played in the Davis Cup, along with doubles specialists Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin.

The Israeli team consists of Andy Ram, Dudi Sela, Noam Okun and Harel Levy.

Captains must present their final line-ups on Thursday for the best-of-five series in Malmo, which has been overshadowed by politics after city officials said they would not allow fans because of security reasons.

The decision sparked criticism from tennis officials in both Sweden and Israel, as well as the International Tennis Federation.

"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,'' ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said.

"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.''

Ram, one of the players embroiled in an international controversy last month over entry into the United Arab Emirates, said the decision to play the first-round series in an empty stadium could inspire other countries to follow suit.

"I think it maybe can open the door for other countries and make stupid decision like this one,'' he said on Tuesday.

"It looks bad for the world. Involving politics with sports is the worst thing.''

Israeli player Shahar Peer was denied entry into the UAE for the WTA's Dubai Tennis Championships last month. After an international outcry against the decision, Ram was allowed to play in the men's tournament the following week.

Andy Ram, on the right, was subject to strict security at the Dubai Championships [EPA].
Protests expected

Thousands of people who want to stop the match are expected to gather for a demonstration in Malmo on Saturday.

Organisers said it would be a peaceful protest against Israel's three-week offensive against Gaza, but police are taking no chances and have called up 1,000 officers to keep protesters from the stadium.

This will be the second time a Davis Cup match will be played in an empty arena in Sweden.

In 1975, two years after a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet against the elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende, Sweden played Chile in Bastad and no spectators were allowed.

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