(Adds Wilander quotes paras 9-11)
STOCKHOLM, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Sweden will play their Davis Cup first round tie against Israel next month in an empty arena because of security concerns, the Swedish news agency TT reported on Wednesday.
The decision was taken through a vote of the recreational committee of the southern city of Malmo, where the tie will be staged from March 6-8 in the 4,000-seat indoor Baltiska Hallen.
“This is about a high-risk match,” TT quoted committee chairman Bengt Forsberg as saying. “We made the decision to play without a crowd only because of security reasons.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the International Tennis Federation 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.
“The ITF also thanks the Swedish Tennis Association who has done everything possible to ensure that this tie goes ahead in the great tradition of the Davis Cup.”
Israeli tennis association spokesman Yaron Michaeli said the ruling body expected a full report from the ITF on Thursday.
“We have been told by them that tickets to the tie will not go on sale and will be issued only to people known to the Swedish tennis authorities as bona fide tennis spectators,” he said.
Sweden captain Mats Wilander told Reuters 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).”
Tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours have been heightened by the three-week Isaeli offensive in the Gaza strip which killed 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.
Leading Israeli player Shahar Peer was denied a visa to play in the Dubai women’s championship this week. (Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem)
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