ITF seeks new host for Billie Jean King Cup as Budapest opts out
The International Tennis Federation, the sport's governing body, is on the search for a new host city for the finals of the Billie Jean King Cup, the women’s national teams tennis competition formerly known as The Fed Cup, after Budapest pulled out for safety reasons.
The Hungarian Tennis Association sent a letter to the ITF last month stating that it was no longer feasible for its capital to host the finals amid the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing restrictions in the country.
The inaugural 12-nation finals, initially scheduled to be held in March last year at the Laszlo Papp Arena in Budapest, were rescheduled to 13 to 18 April this year due to the pandemic but were postponed again in February and are yet to be allocated a new date on the calendar.
The ITF unveiled the revamped Fed Cup in June 2019, with a three-year hosting contract for Budapest and the Hungarian government taking on full financial responsibility for the event.
The tournament was last year renamed in honour of Billie Jean King, who founded the Women’s Tennis Association and helped USA win the inaugural Fed Cup in 1963.
The ITF is determined to stage the competition this year and said it was left with no option but to end the hosting agreement with Budapest.
Dave Haggerty, ITF president, told Reuters: "We have been working closely with the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Tennis Association to review all feasible options to reschedule this year's Finals.
"After working together in good faith for the past year, we were surprised and disappointed to be informed that the HTA no longer considers it possible to hold the event in Budapest.
"Given the timing, the ITF has been left with no other option than to end the hosting agreement with Hungary and explore an alternative solution."
The HTA said it could not safely organise the tournament, which will involve over 60 athletes, their support teams, officials and event staff, due to the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant.
France, Russia, Hungary, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, USA, Spain, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland are the nations which have qualified for the finals.
In its letter to the governing body, which was seen by Reuters, the HTA also said that the original contract signed in 2019 needed to be "carefully examined" so that the competition financed by Hungarian taxpayers' money could be concluded with "minimal losses".
Haggerty added that the ITF “will do everything in its power - for the sport, the players, nations, and the fans - to ensure this landmark competition in tennis and women's sports will be held as soon as it is reasonably practicable.”
Budapest is already set to stage four matches at soccer’s delayed Euro 2020 this summer, and there are hopes of full capacities at the venues.
The inaugural Billie Jean King Cup had secured three major corporations for sponsorship, with multinational bank BNP once again serving as the title sponsor for the finals.
BNP has put its name to the Fed Cup since 2005 and was contracted until 2021 but has extended that agreement with the ITF.
In addition, US software giant Microsoft signed up as the global technology and innovation partner of the Cup, while global steel distribution Magellan Corp become a global partner.
The prize money of £12 million ($16.6 million) is equal to that offered in the men’s equivalent competition, the Davis Cup.
The men’s Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, Spain, originally scheduled for 23 to 29 November 2020, are now due to take place in the week commencing 22 November 2021.