It hasn’t been easy being Rohan Bopanna.
The tall player from Coorg has toiled under the long shadows cast by his illustrious peers Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza. It looked like he had finally been able to emerge from those and weigh on the national consciousness after winning the mixed doubles title at the French Open this year.
But three months down the line, he is once again fighting for recognition. This time in form of the Arjuna Award.
"Arjuna Award is one of the prestigious awards a sportsman receives in our country. It is not just the honour that that it carries in receiving it but it’s also an acknowledgement," Bopanna said in an official statement. "A humble response to the hours, days and years an athlete puts into their craft to keep excelling while keeping their grit unbroken.
"I am calling out to the lack of professionalism and efficiency by AITA for not sending my nomination for the Arjuna Award before the deadline. I have witnessed many such excuses for the past decade (while I was eligible and my record didn't falter) and then too, have never stood for it," the statement added.
The All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) did not nominate his name for the Arjuna Award before the 28 April deadline and instead put his name in the hat only after Bopanna won his first Grand Slam title in June. The AITA claims that they nominated Saketh Myneni instead since he had won medals at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, which Bopanna decided to miss, and the Arjuna committee would be taking into consideration the athletes’ performances from 2013 through to 2016.
"AITA did not send Rohan Bopanna's application for Arjuna Award this year since his application was getting rejected all these years because he has not won any medals for the country at the Asian Games," AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee reasoned. "We knew why it was being rejected all the time," he added.
It is yet another controversy to hit Indian tennis, and the country’s sports award. And no one looks good in it.
Athletes asking for recognition is never a pretty sight. Bopanna’s booming serves and big game have reverberated in the biggest of arenas and his ultimate ambition is winning the big Grand Slams. As he said in the statement, the Arjuna Award is a nod to the years of hard work he has put into his craft, often without the support of the federation. Nothing more. It won’t ease his struggles on the pro tour or in any way take away from his achievements.
But at this time, you’ve got to wonder how Bopanna hasn’t won the Arjuna Award yet. Aged 37, he’s India’s premier doubles player and has consistently remained in the upper echelons of the game. But ‘Bofors Bops’ was also a bloody good singles player who has scripted some winning chapters for India in Davis Cups. The latest was when he came out of singles hiatus in 2010 to score a remarkable 6-3, 7-6,6-3 win over Brazil’s Ricardo Mello to take India to a 3-2 victory. That triumph helped India keep their place in the 16-team World Group. That same year, he reached his first Grand Slam finals at the US Open.
The Arjuna Awards puts a premium on performances in multi-sports events like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. For most Indian athletes, those are the peaks they seek to scale. But it is by far the biggest prize in tennis, with players’ scheduling their years and careers around the four majors.
It’s not the first time that the parameters for the Arjuna Awards have been questioned. In 2014, the sports ministry was dragged to court by boxer Manoj Kumar for the Arjuna snub. It so happened that Manoj had won a gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games but it was the bronze medallist Jai Bhagwan who was bestowed with the award.
This year too the award committee has come under fire for ignoring Indian women’s cricket team captain Mithali Raj for the Khel Ratna and nominating former captain Sardar Singh instead. Even though Sardar has served the country well on the hockey field, he is facing court proceedings in England for an alleged sexual assault.
Bopanna, meanwhile, hasn’t had the most cordial relationship with the country’s tennis bosses. Earlier in the year, he lashed out at them for dropping him from the Davis Cup team for the tie against New Zealand even though he was the highest-ranked doubles player in the country. The 31-year-old has repeatedly called out on AITA’s apathy towards the players and their lack of positive involvement in players’ careers.
The AITA is hiding behind the technicalities like deadlines and parameters that led to an uncomfortable situation where Saketh Myneni, by all means a good player but nowhere in class of Bopanna when it comes to success over the years, has received the award ahead of the Coorgi. Nothing and no one can really explain it.
Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 15:15:12 IST