Sweden and Israel will play their Davis Cup match in an empty arena next month because of security concerns, local authorities said on Wednesday.
Several anti-Israeli demonstrations are planned during the best-of-five series, which will be played from March 6 to March 8.
Malmo officials announced the decision after a vote on the issue in the city’s recreational committee. The Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Left Party won the vote 5-4 after a long debate.
“It’s a high-risk match,” committee chairman Bengt Forsberg was quoted as saying by Swedish news agency TT.
Only officials, some sponsors and journalists will be allowed to enter the arena.
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.
Michael Klein, chairman of the Israel Tennis Federation, said it was a shame that political demonstrators could force Sweden to keep out fans.
“This means that they will not sell tickets to the general public because they are expecting provocation by troublemakers who have nothing to do with the sport,” he said. “It’s terrible that they are trying to mix politics with sports, especially in an enlightened country like Sweden.”
“I trust the Swedes to hold the game in the spirit of sports and not politics. It is not them but a group of troublemakers who want to get attention who are doing this,” Klein said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said the decision was “very unfortunate.”
“It denies tennis fans in Sweden the opportunity to watch these elite teams compete in the competition and believes that this is not in the long-term interests of the Davis Cup. However, for this tie, the ITF reluctantly accedes to the decision of the local authority,” the ITF said.
Sweden captain Mats Wilander said the decision was sad from a sporting point of view.
“But then again this is about security,” he said. “There have been experts on the case and I can only assume that they know as much about what they’re doing as we [the Davis Cup team] know about what we’re doing.”
“As always, sports and politics don’t go together. We can only try to play our best tie, even though it will be hard [without the fans].”