Faced with a revolt in the ranks, a beleaguered All India Tennis Association (AITA) has come up with a formula that smacks of an-attempt-to-please-all compromise. Two men’s doubles tennis teams will be sent for the Olympics, one of which will comprise Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna as they wanted — or more accurately, demanded. While Leander Paes has been paired with a lowly-ranked player, he has been thrown the sop of playing mixed doubles with Sania Mirza in the event she secures a wild card. The decision makes no tennis sense — something that the almost apologetic AITA president Anil Khanna has virtually conceded. If the decision to pair Paes, the country’s top-ranked men’s doubles player with a player ranked ranked 207 is “unfair” as Mr. Khanna admitted, why did AITA make it? Aren’t sporting bodies supposed to take fair decisions in the best interests of the sport rather than buckle under pressure? As for the Paes-Mirza pairing, it is simply illogical given that it was the Bhupathi-Mirza combination that just won the French Open earlier this month.
If AITA has displayed a lack of spine, our tennis players have exhibited a shocking self-centeredness. Even though Mr. Khanna described pairing Bhupathi with Bopanna as “not the best on tennis grounds,” the two have been playing with each other and have reason to believe they make a good team. But by declaring that they will not partner Paes, the two have laid themselves open to the charge that they have put themselves above the nation. In any team sport where players represent the country, the choice of who plays with whom is determined by the appropriate agency (captain, coach, organisation) and not the players themselves. Although playing effective doubles tennis requires a lot of coordination and personal chemistry, in principle the threat held out by Bhupathi and Bopanna is as inexcusable as, say, a member of a relay team declaring he or she will not run with another athlete. Regrettably, after saying he was willing to pair with Bhupathi or Bopanna, Paes joined the chorus of intimidation by threatening to pull out of the Olympics if partnered with a junior player — something he may well do. Nobody has emerged well out of this controversy — not even Sports Minister Ajay Maken who, despite his stated reluctance to interfere with team selection, made it more than clear he was for sending two men’s doubles teams to the Olympics. The controversy, of course, was never about sending one team or two. It was about sending the finest pair to represent the country. In the end, a clash of egos has resulted in the enormous irony of AITA drawing up three teams that it believes are not the best combinations.