Sports Minister Ajay Maken today refused to intervene in the selection crisis that has shaken Indian tennis, leaving it to AITA to take a final call on the men’s doubles combination for the London Olympics.
The ministry had sought an explanation from the All India Tennis Association on the controversy which started when AITA picked Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi as India’s lone entry for the mega event despite the latter’s refusal to team up with the former.
Bhupathi, who wants to be paired with Rohan Bopanna in London, had approached the ministry for help but Maken’s stand has come as a blow to his hopes.
Even Bopanna had refused to team up with Paes citing his commitment to Bhupathi with whom he joined hands this season.
“The Sports Ministry does not wish to be part of selection process. We had raised certain issues because of requests from certain iconic players,” Ajay Maken said in a statement.
Following Maken’s intervention, the AITA had sent a letter to the Ministry detailing its logic for picking the Paes-Bhupathi combination.
AITA gave five options to the Ministry asking it to suggest the right combination but Maken has left the matter to the body’s discretion.
“The Sports Ministry leaves it to AITA to exercise any of the options in the best of national interest,” he said.
“Whatever needs to be done in the best of national interest, I have asked AITA to do and whenever it needs our help, we will do that and speak to players if they need to be spoken to. I hope that everyone works in national interest,” he added.
It is now clear that, either Bopanna or Bhupathi will have to agree to play with Paes or miss out on participating in the Olympics and possibly face disciplinary action.
“We had a cordial meeting with the ministry officials. Lot of suggestions were made and the five possible options were outlined in our reply to the ministry,” said AITA President Anil Khanna after a meeting here.
“We have only three doubles players and only two out of three can go and the selection committee has already decided that Paes should partner Bhupathi and in case Mahesh declines, it should be Bopanna.
“The govt is supportive. The sentiments of Paes have to be kept in mind,” he added, referring to the fact that Paes has individual entry to the Olympic draw due to his top-10 ranking while Bhupathi and Bopanna make the cut on the basis of their combined ranking.
There were suggestions of sending two teams— Bhupathi-Bopanna and Paes with a lower-ranked player like Yuki Bhambri— but with the Ministry’s refusal to intervene, it looks unlikely.