AFP - Australia on Saturday confirmed they will not play their Davis Cup tennis tie away in India next month because they are worried about safety, risking a one-year ban from the competition.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said Friday the 28-times Davis Cup champions must play their Asia/Oceania Zone Group I third-round tie in Chennai from May 8-10, despite Tennis Australia saying India was too dangerous.
"We asked for the tie to be moved because we have major security concerns for the players, particularly during the (Indian) election," Tennis Australia (TA) president Geoff Pollard said in a statement.
"The ITF decision has left us with no other option. We cannot send the team. It is extremely disappointing. It would be irresponsible of us to send our players into an area of such high risk.
"Davis Cup is very important to us but some things are more important than tennis," Pollard said.
Pollard added the ITF and India could not meet a list of security requirements it had sought for the Australian team, with their concerns heightened because of the month-long Indian general elections.
Fears about security in South Asia and the spectre of sports teams being targets for militants were heightened after the Mumbai attacks in November and an armed assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan in March.
In New Delhi, Indian sports minister Manohar Singh Gill said Australia's decision was "not justified", despite Maoist guerrillas claiming 19 lives in poll-related violence.
"I regret that Tennis Australia is not willing to come to Chennai to play us in the Davis Cup," he said in a statement.
Gill said the Indian government "had assured them (Australia) of complete security. Our assertions have been found more than satisfactory by the Davis Cup Committee and by the ITF," he said.
"There is no law and order problem in Chennai," he said. "India does not have the slightest of problems regarding security in sports," adding that Chennai hosted "a very successful ATP tournament in January."
Gill compared the situation to that in Britain, the scene of deadly co-ordinated terrorist attacks in London in 2005 and where Australia is scheduled to participate in this summer's Ashes cricket series with England.
"Tennis is played in a small stadium in Chennai where only a few thousand would have watched them," his statement said.
"It interests me that though the United Kingdom has had terrorist incidents, Australia will be going for the Ashes cricket (series) and will play before crowds of 30,000 or more despite obvious security concerns.
"Or am I to understand that they won't go to England?" he said in the statement.
Earlier appealing against the tie taking place in India, Tennis Australia had pointed out cricket's Indian Premier League had been moved to South Africa because of concerns security could not be guaranteed during elections.
Should Australia proceed with their boycott, they will likely face suspension from the 2010 competition and a 100,000-US-dollar fine.
It could also spell the end of 28-year-old Lleyton Hewitt's stellar Davis Cup career, according to his manager David Drysdale.
"It could easily happen. He will consider his response but this could spell the end of his Cup career, which would be disappointing," Drysdale said of Hewitt, who has won more Davis Cup singles matches than any other Australian.
Australian Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald said he was angry and upset with the ITF.
"It is just irresponsible. Surely some thought must be given to the players' safety?" Fitzgerald said.
"This decision makes no sense. We have worked so hard to get back in to World Group contention, to have it snatched away like this is gut-wrenching."
Fitzgerald said all the players shared his disappointment but still hoped for an ITF change of heart prior to the May tie.
In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia's boycott was a matter for Tennis Australia.
"They have been in discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade -- the department has provided to the Australian tennis federation our advice," was all Smith would say.