New Zealand have been banned from playing in next month's Fed Cup by the International Tennis Federation.
The exclusion from the world's premier competition in women's tennis is because of the last-minute withdrawal Tennis NZ made from this year's tournament in Thailand in February, when top players Marina Erakovic and Sacha Jones were unavailable.
Both had wrist injuries and Tennis NZ didn't want to pay the $50,000 fee to send an inexperienced team.
Erakovic played at a tournament in Midland in the United States just a couple of days after the Fed Cup finished and Tennis NZ CEO Steve Johns conceded to the Sunday Star-Times at the time that a small injury was only part of the reason why she didn't compete.
After New Zealand pulled out it was expected the only consequence would be that they would automatically be relegated to Asia/Oceania group two.
However, the sport's governing body has come down hard and refused to allow this country to participate in January's event in Shenzen, China.
"We have been stood down for a year. That is the penalty for pulling out at the late stage we did this year," Johns confirmed. "We could have received a reasonably hefty fine for doing that, or been stood down.
"So we won't be competing in 2012 and will come back into the programme in 2013.
"It is disappointing, but we stand by the decision we made at the start of this year.
"It has focused our attention on the fact that we need to have some real depth in our women's programme and build up a strong team for 2013 and onwards."
When New Zealand play again in 2013 it will be against the likes of Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, and Turkmenistan, a far cry from 1965 and 1971, when the Kiwis made it to the quarterfinals of the world group.
Erakovic was trying to climb back up the rankings in February, having slipped to No291 in the world from her high of 49 in July 2008.
Johns says Erakovic has told Tennis NZ she wants to play Fed Cup again, but admits that she may turn it down when the time comes.
"She's said to us that she's committed to playing for New Zealand and representing her country.
"What that means when it's time to play Fed Cup again is there is going to have to be a decision she'll have to make.
"It is that perennial issue we have with the guys and women of weighing up representing their country versus what's best for their ongoing career," he said.
"I don't think it's a problem that's ever going to go away.
"What we've got to do is make it as attractive as possible for them to play – we give them all the support we possibly can and build a sense of pride around playing for the silver fern."
TENNIS NZ has a battle on its hands trying to persuade the New Zealand Olympic Committee that Erakovic should go to the 2012 Olympics.
There are 56 direct acceptances for the women's singles at the London Games. Erakovic has a current ranking of 61, but a country can enter only a maximum of four players in the draw, and as there are more than that number of Russian and Czech players ahead of her in the rankings, the New Zealander would make it in as the 54th highest-ranked player.
But under the NZOC's current policy, the only way they'd approve her going to London is if she was ranked inside the top 16.
Johns says he's begun talks with the NZOC about whether they can make a special case for Erakovic as tennis is so different from other Olympic sports, but he says they're currently sticking fast to their self-imposed rules.
"She wants to play, she wants to go to the Olympics, and it's going to have to be an ongoing discussion we have with the NZOC.
"The unfortunate position we're in is that the ITF cut-off is June 11, so it is close to the Olympics and we're saying to the NZOC that she needs to know now if she makes the ITF cut-off she's going to go, but we're not at that point yet."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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