A common team physiotherapist and coach. Treating all the players equally. A fair share of prize money. These are some of the demands the striking tennis players have made to the All India Tennis Association. They are not by any stretch outrageous or unreasonable. Yet the bosses at AITA are reacting like kings whose divine authority has been questioned by villagers who should know better.
AITA chief executive Hiranmoy Chatterjee told IANS on 7 January that it was not possible for the national body to accept all the demands of the players. AITA had proposed a compromise wherein they agreed to the players’ proposals, but would reserve the final decision for themselves.
For example, AITA replaced Nandan Bal with Zeeshan Ali as coach of the team, but the players had suggested Aditya Sachdeva, who has coached Yuki Bhambri. By replacing one coach with another that the the players oppose, AITA has not done anything to help solve the impasse. All they have done is find a way to preserve their authority so that it does not appear they are being dictated to by the players.
Unfortunately, this is a popular attitude among India’s sports administrators. Each sports body views his sport as his personal fiefdom where his word is law. Challenge that law and your chances of succeeding in your sport shrink dramatically. Even the BCCI, India’s best run sports body, will not allow the players to form an association. Power cannot, and must not, be shared.
This attitude is one of the primary reasons India has struggled to succeed in the sporting arena. The athletes are looked upon as second class citizens with no say in their own futures, and who should be grateful for whatever is given to them. Such an attitude guarantees they are given as little as possible.
To be fair, this particular attitude is not limited to India. But in other countries and other sports, player power has asserted itself and carved out a piece of the kingdom. The National Basketball Player Association and the Major League Player Association in the USA are now powerful bodies that fiercely negotiate agreements with team owners. Far from hurting their sports, these associations have empowered the players and the sports have only benefited and grown more popular.
In the case of AITA, Indian tennis is struggling as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi wind down their careers. If the organization is serious about improving the health of tennis in the country, it would do well to sit down with the players and treat them as partners rather than subjects, especially since the players are making very basic demands. If that means giving up some authority, then so be it. In the long run, Indian tennis will be the winner.