Sports ministry leaves selection to AITA
New Delhi, June 19: Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna's dream to play as a team in the London Olympics suffered a set-back Tuesday after sports minister Ajay Maken said that it was the prerogative of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to pick the best combination.
Maken, who Monday sought an explanation from the AITA on the selection, made a u-turn by refusing 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 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.
"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.
Maken comments came after 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.
In the letter the AITA defended Leander Paes' selection for the Olympics and gave the government five options to solve the selection fiasco involving Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna for the 2012 London Games.
AITA secretary-general Bharat Oza in his reply to Maken said that asking Leander to pair with a junior player would be the most inappropriate decision.
Oza also said that doing so will be an insult to Leander who enjoys great respect in the international tennis circuit.
Spelling out the five options to the sports ministry, Oza wrote: "Ask the players to follow the decision of the selection committee consisting of five Davis Cup players and 1 Fed Cup player. This means that Leander should play with Mahesh. This also means that there will be only one pair but in the views of the selectors the best possible pair."
The second option, in case Bhupathi does not want to play with Leander, Rohan should play with Leander as the per the decision of the AITA selection committee. This again means only one pair will represent India at the Olympics.
The third option is of two Indian pairs at the Games. Leander would pair up with either Yuki Bhambri or Vishnu Vardhan and Mahesh could team up with Bopanna.
As per the fourth option, if Leander decides not to go to Olympics with a lower ranked player, only Mahesh and Bopanna will represent India.
The AITA in the final option said disciplinary actions should be taken against Mahesh and Bopanna if they don't abide by the decision of the selection committee and Leander takes court with a junior partner.
Oza in his letter said the decision to send one or two teams was not an easy one.
Coming down hard on Mahesh and Bopanna, Oza said: "It should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep out the No.1 player out and thereafter publicly suggest in the media that No.1 player should go to the Olympics with the No.5 player."
AITA president Ani Khanna said: "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."
"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 government 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.