The AITA without having a discussion with the players selected the team for the Olympics. AITA did not discuss matters thinking that the players will be happy with their decision. But Bopanna and Bhupathi, who had been practicing together for a long time, refused to partner with Paes, forcing AITA to select two teams for the men’s double’s event.
The recent controversy, where All India Tennis Association (AITA) was forced to change the men’s doubles team after Mahesh Bhupathi refused to team up with his estranged partner Leander Paes in the upcoming London Olympics, has raised important issues. Should Indian players, just for the sake of settling their personal matters, compromise with the country’s pride? And what is the role of sports’ governing bodies in India? If they are not able to take a stand on such big occasions like the Olympics, where the nation’s prestige is at stake, and are always held to ransom by the players, then is there any need at all for such governing bodies?
In October 2011, according to sources, Rohan Bopanna came to Paes with a proposal to team up in 2012 and play the Olympics together. Paes agreed but did not initially tell Bhupathi that he wants to pair up with someone younger. When Paes finally informed Bhupathi of his new plan a month later, Bhupati blasted him, blaming him for destroying their team.But within a few days, Bhupathi and Bopanna came to the media and announced their partnership for 2012 and also their goal of playing in the Olympics as a team.
Paes won the Australian Open and a few other ATP titles with his new partner, Radek Stepanek, and retained his world ranking among the top 10 and came up as the only Indian to get a direct Olympic entry on the strength of his own ranking alone. Thus he had the option of choosing his partner. Bhupathi and Bopanna also qualified for the Olympicsdue to their ranking at the seventh position, but as a team.
The main issue stemmed from the problems outlined above. The AITA had to take a decision between either pairing their no. 1 player Paes with Bhupathi or Bopanna or else sending the Bhupathi-Bopanna team while Paes paired up with Vishnu Vardhan. The AITA selection committee came up with the Paes and Bhupathi team, and the controversy snowballed.
Sania Mirza, on the strength of her recent French Open showing, has got a wild card entry in the women’s doubles draw with Rushmi Chakravarthy. But she has criticised AITA for using her as a bait to pacify Leander Paes. She has said that the country’s pride comes first, so she will partner with Paes in the mixed doubles.
Bhupathi refused to team up with Leander saying that he and Bopanna have been practicing together for a long time, and there is no sense in partnering someone with whom he has not played in recent times. In a big event like the Olympics, you need to have proper practice. Without having proper co-ordination and communication with your partner, you can’t expect a good result. Bopanna broke his partnership with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi to represent India at the Olympics. Later Bopanna also refused to team up with Leander in the doubles.
‘We are saddened to learn of the decision of the AITA selection committee to not nominate us for participation in the men’s doubles tennis event at the Games,’ Bopanna and Bhupathi said in a joint statement. ‘We have repeatedly and consistently communicated to the AITA our desire to only be considered for selection as a team and not as individuals to be paired with any other players’, they claimed.
Due to this controversy, and Bopanna and Bhupathi’s refusal to team up with Paes, AITA had to change its decision and send Bhupathi and Bopanna as a team. Leander Paes, it was decided, would team up with wild card entry Vishnu Vardhan. In the mixed doubles, AITA has selected the pair of Sania Mirza and Leander Paes. Usually Sania plays with Bhupathi in the mixed doubles. Sania Mirza, on the strength of her recent French Open showing, has got a wild card entry in the women’s doubles draw with Rushmi Chakravarthy. But she has criticised AITA for using her as a bait to pacify Leander Paes. However, she has said that the country’s pride comes first, so she will partner with Paes in the mixed doubles.
The most important question that arises here is: Why did the AITA not make their selection policy clear to the players once they got the hint that Bhupathi and Bopanna were planning to team up together for the Olympics?
The players too could have shown maturity by sorting out their concerns by sitting together and discussing the matter rather than going public and disclosing their problems with AITA. National pride and prestige are, in the final analysis, more important than personal considerations.