(photo credit: )
Israel's first-round Davis Cup tie against Sweden in Malmo next month will be played in an empty arena because of security concerns, local authorities said Wednesday.
Several anti-Israeli demonstrations are planned during the World Group encounter, which will be played March 6-8 at the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall.
Malmo officials announced the decision after a vote on the issue in the city's recreational committee. The Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Left Party won the vote 5-4 after a long debate.
The recreational committee said it could not guarantee security for the fans.
"It's a high-risk match," committee chairman Bengt Forsberg was quoted as saying by Swedish news agency TT.
Only officials, some sponsors and journalists will be allowed to enter the arena.
Carlos Gonzales Ramos, the committee's vice chairman, wanted to call off the match.
"But since it was not possible to do so, this was best result," he told TT.
The Malmo decision came after Shahar Pe'er was denied a visa to play in this week's Dubai Tennis Championships, with Andy Ram still waiting to hear whether he will be able to enter the country to play in next week's men's tournament.
In an unexpected twist on Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that John Collins, a spokesman for US Congressman Anthony Weiner, said that Ram will be granted a visa by the United Arab Emirates.
Michael Klein, chairman of the Israel Tennis Federation, said it was a shame that political demonstrators could force Sweden to keep out fans.
"This means that they will not sell tickets to the general public because they are expecting provocation by troublemakers who have nothing to do with the sport," he said. "It's terrible that they are trying to mix politics with sports, especially in an enlightened country like Sweden.
"I trust the Swedes to hold the game in the spirit of sports and not politics. It is not them but a group of troublemakers who want to get attention,who are doing this."
Left-wing organizations were expecting more than 10,000 people to take part in anti-Israel protests in and around the arena.
"Sport and politics should not be mixed but it is up to the city of Malmo to decide whether they can allow spectators to watch this contest," Henrik Kallen, the general secretary of the Swedish Tennis Federation told The Guardian.
"We gave the council the license to organize this event so it is no longer in our hands. But of course we want this match to go ahead with as many people as possible being able to watch."
The International Tennis Federation, the sport's governing body, said: "It would be possible for the Swedish federation to switch the tie to another venue, given the extenuating circumstances."
Meanwhile, on the court in Dubai Wednesday, top-seeded Serena Williams and her sister Venus moved closer to a semifinal matchup with third-round victories.
Serena Williams defeated 13th-seeded Zheng Jie of China 6-4, 6-2, with sixth-seeded Venus Williams topping 11th-seeded Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 6-2.
Venus was the latest player to voice her opinion regarding Pe'er on Wednesday.
"I know she's previously played in the Middle East, in Doha, so it was my understanding she would have the opportunity to play here also, despite legislative issues," said the American.
"Obviously I am disappointed she hasn't had a chance to do this because she's a good person and works just as hard as anyone else on the tour, and should have the opportunity to play.
"She shouldn't be denied, it's not right, she's just a person. We are all people, no matter where we are from.
"I have to look at the bigger picture. The big picture is that Shahar Pe'er didn't get a chance to play but, making an immediate decision, we also have to look at sponsors, fans and everyone who has invested a lot in the tournament.
"We are all going to consider what are the options for next year, but [this year] we didn't even know till Saturday that Pe'er had been denied a visa.
"I think there are rules and protocols as to how you can proceed."
Also Wednesday, third-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia was upset by emerging talent Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-2, 7-5. Advancing to the quarterfinals were eighth-seeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, defending champion Elena Dementieva of Russia, fifth-seeded Vera Zvonareva and Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina.