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ITF Warns Pakistan Against Reprisals

July 3, 2002

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ The warning to Pakistan from the International Tennis Federation came wrapped in diplomatic language. The message was as blunt as an overhead smash:

Back off.

Pakistan’s threats to punish its No. 1 player, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, for playing doubles at Wimbledon with Israel’s Amir Hadad were met Wednesday with a carefully crafted ``reminder,″ as an ITF spokeswoman put it, of the federation’s constitution.

Discrimination won’t be tolerated. Not on political grounds. Not on religious grounds.

The ITF warning came in a statement released to The Associated Press that suggested Pakistan could jeopardize its federation membership if it barred Qureshi from its Davis Cup team when it plays China in September.

``The ITF understands the political sensitivity of this issue,″ the statement said, ``but, as Davis Cup was founded with the aim of furthering international understanding through sport, we hope that the Pakistan Tennis Federation will choose Mr. Qureshi to participate in Davis Cup so long as his abilities warrant selection.″

Instead of celebrating the success of Qureshi and Hadad, two fringe players who befriended each other scuttling around the tour and got to the third round at Wimbledon, the head of tennis in Pakistan denounced the pairing and demanded an explanation from Qureshi.

Even though Qureshi went further in a Grand Slam event than any Pakistani player in history, the Pakistan Sports Board is talking about suspending him. Pakistan’s officials are upset because the country doesn’t recognize the state of Israel.

``We hope and expect that he would not repeat this mistake in future,″ Syed Dilawar Abbas, president of the Pakistan Tennis Federation, said in Karachi.

Abbas added that Qureshi had not obtained permission from his country’s federation to play with an Israeli.

Qureshi’s family lives in Lahore, but he practices in Amsterdam with a Dutch coach and wanders the world like the rest of his nomadic tennis brethren.

All the fuss has left him understandably perplexed and ``a bit shocked.″ His mother, Nosheen, the former No. 1 woman player in Pakistan, and his father, Ihtshan, a businessman, were with him at Wimbledon, videotaping the match and sharing in his joy. Like him, they saw nothing wrong with the partnership between their son and Hadad.

``I never thought it was going to become such a big thing,″ said Qureshi, 22. ``We’re not here to change anything: politicians and governments do that. ...

``I am not a political person. I don’t like politics, actually. (Hadad) never talks to me about it.″

Hadad, 24, of Ramla, Israel, near Tel Aviv, said he chose to play with Qureshi for pragmatic, not political, reasons.

``I know Aisam is very good on grass, has a good serve, good volley,″ Hadad said. ``I pick him up only because of his talent and his skills in tennis. And I also like him as a person. It’s always fun to be with somebody that you like on the court. We have fun together and that’s it.″

Qureshi and Hadad plan to play together again in the U.S. Open.

``It’s the first time I’ve made it to the main draw of a Grand Slam _ with him,″ Qureshi said. ``I wouldn’t mind, for sure. I don’t like to interfere religion or politics into sport.″

Hadad agreed.

``We are good friends,″ he said, ``and I think we’re going to keep playing together in the future.″

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