AITA to send two teams to London Olympics
New Delhi: After days of bitter wrangling over India's tennis representation at next month's London Olympics, a compromised formula was announced today under which Mahesh Bhupathi gets his wish to partner Rohan Bopanna in the doubles, while Leander Paes has been paired with lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan despite his protestations.
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Paes, country's number one player, has however, been compensated by being named for the mixed doubles along with Sania Mirza, thereby turning Bhupathi's desire to play alongside her.
The compromise formula worked out by All India Tennis Association (AITA) was announced barely hours before the deadline for sending entries expired.
This means that India will take part in at least three tennis events provided Sania gets a wild card entry which is expected. Wild cards will be announced by the ITF on June 28.
There was no immediate reaction from Paes, who had threatened to boycott the Olympics, if he was paired with a junior. Vardhan is ranked 206.
Paes' father Dr Vece however said, he would be disappointed by the AITA decision and it was difficult to say which way he would go.
Put in a quandary, after the three top players threatened to opt out of the mega event, AITA conceded that its decision was "not fair" in all respects but was in the "best interest of the nation".
AITA came out in wholesome praise of Paes by describing him as most patriotic player and appealed to him to partner Vardhan.
"In the given circumstances, the best option is of sending two teams. We are fully aware that Leander Paes, our great tennis player and undoubtedly the most patriotic one, who has the record of most David Cup appearances for India and has served the nation for over 25 years, had been driven to the wall and had to react sharply yesterday much against his true character," AITA President Anil Khanna told reporters.
"AITA does not want Leander's image to be tarnished. AITA now requests Leander to forgive the utterances (against him by Bhupathi and Bopanna). We request Leander to reverse his thoughts and he should help Bopanna and Vishnu to succeed in their first Olympics," he added.
The AITA chief added, "This decision is unfair to India No. 1 (Paes). AITA holds Leander in very high esteem. We are confident that Leander won't disappoint us as he has done yeoman's service to the game."
"Under the complicated circumstances, this is the most balanced decision. I am sure we will be able to convince Paes to play. It's a calculated risk. We did not want to be harsh on Bhupathi and Bopanna at this stage.
"It will be a disaster, it will be a nightmare for all of us, if Paes refuses. Initially he may have reservations but he should agree," Khanna said.
Khanna claimed that their decision was not a climbdown from their earlier stand.
"We were not pressurised. It's not a climbdown. We do not sit on egos. It was not an easy decision. It's most wonderful in the circumstances. Now all top four players will have a medal chance and Vishnu and Rushmi (if she gets wild card with Sania) will get a chance to play Olympics."
Asked whether AITA had condoned the conduct of Bhupathi and Bopanna, who refused to abide by AITA's original decision regarding selection, Khanna said it is not a closed chapter.
"A code of conduct for the players will be implemented after the Olympics. We will discuss it after the Games."
In London, Bhupathi and Bopanna were delighted to be paired together.
"We are excited that we will be playing together at the Olympics and our sole focus is now on our team's preparations for the Games," Bhupathi and Bopanna said in a joint statement.
"We are delighted to have been nominated as a team to the Men's Doubles event at the Games of the XXX Olympiad. The events of the last few days have been extremely challenging for all concerned, but we respect them as necessary steps in this process," the statement added.
"In making each of our decisions, we were guided by our strong convictions regarding what we believed was fair and we are pleased that this is reflected in the outcome. We are greatly appreciative of the support we have received from across the world," the players' statement added.
Meanwhile, Olympian Vece Paes today termed AITA's decision to pair Paes with Vishnu Vardhan as unfair.
"Leander has always compromised while playing for the country. I think now he is tired of doing that. I don't think Leander will agree with AITA's decision," the senior Paes said here today.
"Leander will be disappointed with this decision. It is very unfair with him. He is a highly principled as well as an emotional man; so it is difficult to say which way he will go. Things have changed drastically over the past two days."
He said that two people were 'blackmailing' the country and the AITA decision set a bad precedent for others.
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) also slammed Bhupathi and Bopanna for dictating terms to the AITA in team selection, saying no player should be allowed to have a "veto power".
"I don't want to name the players but no player should be allowed to have a sort of veto power in team selection," V K Malhotra, IOA acting President, told PTI in clear reference to Bhupathi and Bopanna.
Malhotra also criticised AITA for buckling under pressure from players, saying that today's decision to send two men's doubles teams for the Olympics can set bad precedent for other federations.
"AITA should not have entertained their (Bhupathi and Bopanna's) threats," said Malhotra.
"Today's decision has the potential to set precedents for other federations. It's the function of federations to pick player. The IOA also does not interfere in this. And the players cannot dictate terms on the federations. I hope today's decision does not set a precedent which if happens will be certainly bad for Indian sports," he said.