Ram: 'Politics won over sports'

MALMO, Sweden -- Israel's Andy Ram criticized the International Tennis Federation on Thursday for allowing the Davis Cup series in Sweden to be played in an empty stadium without fans.

"They say it's bad but they don't do anything. They have to act," the doubles specialist told The Associated Press after the draw for the best-of-five series in Malmo.

Ram said the ITF should have put more pressure on Malmo officials who decided to play the first-round matchup in a closed arena because of fears of demonstrations and protests against Israel.

Ram said the ITF should have issued an ultimatum to the Swedish organizers: Play with a crowd or the event would be moved to another country.

"Now it's too late," Ram said. "Politics won over sports. That's sad. You don't see that very often in tennis."

Ram was embroiled in an international controversy last month after Israeli player Shahar Peer was denied entry for the WTA's Dubai Tennis Championships. After an international outcry against the decision, Ram was allowed to play in the men's tournament in Dubai the following week.

Before Thursday's draw, ITF representative Jacques Dupre said the federation was disappointed with Malmo's decision to ban fans from the series.

"However, for the integrity of the competition, it is most important for the tie to go ahead," he said.

Thousands of protesters are planning a demonstration Saturday against Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip. About 1,000 police have been called to keep the protesters away from the Baltic Hall arena.

Thomas Johansson urged them not to interfere with the match.

"What happened in Gaza was horrible, everyone thinks so. But you have to separate between sports and politics," he said.

In the draw, Ram was paired up with Amir Hadad for the doubles match Saturday against Simon Aspelin and Robert Lindstedt.

Johansson and Andreas Vinciguerra are returning from injury to play the singles matches for Sweden. Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion, faces Harel Levy on Friday, and Vinciguerra will play Dudi Sela.