By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is looking for a new host city for this year’s Billie Jean King Cup final after ending its deal with Budapest.
An ITF source confirmed to Reuters that the revamped 12-nation women’s team competition, formerly known as the Fed Cup, will no longer take place at the Laszlo Papp Arena, after being postponed twice due to COVID-19.
ITF president Dave Haggerty confirmed the decision on Tuesday.
“We have worked closely with the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Tennis Association (HTA) to examine all possible options to postpone this year’s finals,” said Haggerty, member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“After working together in good faith over the past year, we were surprised and disappointed to learn that the HTA no longer considers it possible to hold the event in Budapest.
“Given the timing, the ITF had no choice but to end the hosting agreement with Hungary and explore an alternative solution.”
The ITF received a letter from the Hungarian Tennis Association (HTA) on April 22 saying that it was no longer possible to hold the final, citing security reasons.
The Fed Cup, sponsored by BNP Paribas, was redesigned in 2019 with Budapest winning the right to host the final, but the inaugural edition last April was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was rescheduled for last month but was again postponed for health reasons. No new date had been agreed.
The ITF are determined to keep the competition going and have said they have little choice but to terminate the deal with Budapest and look for a new host.
Several other cities had bid with Budapest in the initial process and could be alternatives, but organizing such a complex event in the short term will be a huge challenge.
“The ITF will do everything in its power – for sport, players, nations and supporters – to ensure that this historic competition in tennis and women’s sport takes place as soon as it is reasonably practicable,” Haggerty said.
In the HTA letter, seen by Reuters, they said the emergence of new COVID-19 variants meant they could not safely host the week-long event that would feature 60 athletes plus coaches and support staff.
The letter also stated that the original contract signed in 2019 needed to be “carefully considered” so that the competition funded by Hungarian taxpayers’ money could be concluded with “minimal losses”.
France, Russia, Hungary, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, United States, Spain, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland qualified for the final.
Budapest was announced as the host in 2019 when the Fed Cup was restructured into a tennis World Cup format ending with 12 nations competing for a week for the title.
The total amount of prize money is tied with the Men’s Davis Cup with a pot of $ 18 million in which $ 12 million goes to players and $ 6 million to national federations.
It was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup last year in honor of the 12-time American Grand Slam champion and women’s tennis pioneer who was part of the winning team of the first Fed Cup in London in 1963.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)