New Delhi, Jun19: The India government has turned down the national tennis body's unexpected call for help to sort out the muddled men's doubles team pick for the London Olympics.
National sports bodies don't usually like interference from the government but the All India Tennis Association made the surprise move after being asked by the sports ministry to explain the selection of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi as the sole men's pair for London.
The selection became controversial as Bhupathi and compatriot Rohan Bopanna are a team on the ATP Tour, and they refused to pair up with Paes, the highest-ranked player in the world among the trio at No. 7 in doubles.
The sports ministry was quick to decline the offer of cleaning up the mess, saying it only wanted an explanation since eminent players were involved.
“The sports ministry advised the AITA to exercise the option which is in the best of national interest,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
Sports minister Ajay Maken asked for an explanation since the government was funding Olympic preparations, and two doubles teams qualified for the Olympics—Paes along with another partner by virtue of his top-10 ranking, and Bhupathi and Bopanna because of their combined ranking of 26.
“What is the justification of denying two players, who have qualified as a team on merit, by sending just one Indian team when India can send two teams?” Maken wrote to the AITA on Monday.
AITA replied that it selected Paes because he was the only one to receive an Olympic entry due to his world ranking and deserved to be part of a strong team.
“We may kindly explain that if Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna are entered as a team, then Leander Paes will have to partner some other player and since Somdev Devvarman is injured, it will have to be the next best player who is either Yuki Bhambri, who is ranked 306 in the world, or Vishnu Vardhan, who is ranked 207 in the world,” AITA said.
“AITA had noted that Mahesh and Rohan were playing together, but at no stage had stated that they will necessarily be sent as a pair, irrespective of the standing of other players.”
AITA added “there is no need to send a team which has no medal-winning prospects.”
The controversy drew comments from Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi, who has not been actively involved in the national body's affairs since spending nine months in jail last year on corruption charges relating to the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
“As two teams have qualified in tennis for the London Olympics, I think in the national interest both teams should be sent,” Kalmadi said in a statement. “I support the sports minister's stand ... and I hope AITA would change its stand with a view to get more medals.”
It is not immediately clear whether Bhupathi will partner Sania Mirza in mixed doubles, despite the pair having won the French Open this month.
The deadline for sending in entries is Thursday.