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When it’s players vs. administrators

KALYAN ASHOK
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Different ballgame:Some of the demands put forward by India’s top tennis players merit serious consideration.Photo: AFP
Different ballgame:Some of the demands put forward by India’s top tennis players merit serious consideration.Photo: AFP

The recent showdown between players and the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) highlights the disconnect between administrators and sportspersons in the country.

At the ATP Chennai Open, the top eight players (barring Leander Paes), led by the country’s no. 1 singles player Somdev Devvarman, presented a set of demands aimed at getting AITA to act with more transparency and address their grievances.

However, AITA’s first reaction was an outright rebuttal, with its secretary general Bharath Oza saying: “If we have to lose our next Davis Cup tie, so be it.” He also insisted that players first sign an agreement on the code of conduct, which AITA was framing.

The incensed players then threatened to boycott the selection trials, forcing the AITA to concede some of the key demands. These included a better share of Davis Cup prize money, allowing players to have a say in the selection of surface and venue, equal hospitality services for all including air travel and accommodation, change in support staff, including getting a regular physiotherapist for the Davis Cup team and a change of the team captain and coach.

The players wanted Aditya Sachadeva (Yuki Bhambri’s trainer) as the coach, and backed former players Rohit Rajpal or Anand Amritraj as options for the new captain. The current captain, 70-year-old S.P. Misra, has already resigned, seemingly with a feeling of “hurt”.

Firm on captain

But AITA has stood firm on the issue, saying it was the association’s prerogative to appoint the captain. It asked S.P. Misra to stay on as the captain for the South Korea tie, and announced that former Davis Cupper Zeeshan Ali would take over from then onwards.

The players have turned down that suggestion, claiming that it serves no purpose for Misra to stay on as captain for one tie. They have also objected to the nomination of Zeeshan, who last played for the country two decades ago. They claim that he is out of sync with the current crop of youngsters, as he was working as a coach in the Gulf

The clearly livid AITA top bosses have now refused to play ball. “We have addressed all the major demands. It is for the players to report for trials by January 10. And if they refuse, we will consider other players. There are not just eight tennis players in the country,” thundered AITA CEO Hironmoy Chatterjee.

Hoping for rift

The AITA is perhaps hoping for a rift in the players’ ranks, and that players like Yuki Bhambri,Vishnu Vardhan , Sanam Singh and Saket Myneni, who have much at stake  in their career, would make themselves available and part ways with the likes of Somdev Devvarman, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.Flexibility a must

Why is it that AITA wanders from one blunder to another? Ever since the ugly fracas during the Olympic team selection, it has not done much to bring the players on board.

If it is a question of ego, it should be set aside and the association should prepare for meaningful dialogue with the players. The players too need to be flexible. It’s a matter of give and take.

Modern tennis is a different ballgame. It is for AITA to come out of a time warp, while it is imperative that players don’t act in a way that could be construed as trying to usurp the supremacy of the game’s apex body in the country.

KALYAN ASHOK

After the ugly fracas of the Olympics, the tennis association wanders into another blunder at the ATP Chennai Open