Stung by the two-year ban imposed on him,veteran tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi today hit back at the AITA,accusing the game’s governing body of resorting to “divide-and-rule” policy and said its “dictatorial attitude” will be harmful for the future of Indian tennis.
A hurt Bhupathi made a scathing attack on AITA and its president Anil Khanna who,he alleged,was playing “dirty politics” and creating rift among players,particularly between him and Leander Paes.
“Khanna has redefined the term divide and rule. The AITA and its dictatorial attitude,and its administration are harmful for the future of Indian tennis,” Bhupathi said at a press conference here today where he also circulated his correspondence with the AITA ahead of the London Olympics.
The veteran tennis pro said he had no choice but to accept the ban but was now exploring legal options.
“My being termed a dictator is unacceptable to me. I don’t know if we can do anything,but there is no option not to accept the ban. We will definitely pursue a legal route. (My) lawyers are deciding the course of action,can’t say much now,” he said.
Bhupathi minced no words has he launched an attack against Khanna. “He has redefined the term divide and rule and at this year’s Olympics he used Leander’s shoulder to fire the gun against me multiple times. Unfortunately the media terms this a Bhupathi-Paes rift and the true underbelly is left unquestioned.”
“As far as I am concerned,I was always banned by the AITA,they never supported anything I did for the sport,only when they couldn’t do without me and they needed the doubles point in Davis Cup,I got the email.
“They continue to misuse the power they have to try and teach me a lesson only because they feel I am able to do a lot more for the sports than they do and in the midst of all this,not only did we players suffer but so did the sport and in turn the country,” he said.
Bhupathi said he was available for last week’s Davis Cup tie against New Zealand and that he was not informed about the ban by AITA.
“I always feel like playing for India. I was available for the tie last week but no one from AITA asked me. I actually got an email about the ban from a press person. Didn’t hear anything from AITA.
“I played my last match for India in the present circumstances (London Games) and next year will be my last on the tour definitely. A lot of people celebrated on the day we lost (in Olympics),” he said
Bhupathi urged the either the Sports Ministry or the IOA to intervene.
“There are powers like IOA or Sports Ministry who can take action. I don’t know who to complain to. If it is sports Ministry or IOA or somebody,it needs to step in for Indian tennis.”
Despite giving his all,he said he never got the cooperation from AITA.
“Tennis has given me everything I am today and by God’s grace I am able to give back a lot to the sport. I have running tennis events,building tennis courts,raising money for talented kids and even opening academies across the country.
“However,at every step of the way,the establishment has put spokes in the wheel. So much so that they changed the constitution to make sure I am not able to run any event in India without them being a part of it.
“Anil has been upset with me for being able to develop talent,which he should have done. For developing avenue and for developing the game.”
Talking about the fiasco ahead of the Games,he said: “No one made an effort to talk to me or Leander. Zero effort was made to get us in a room and solve the issue.
“Two days after the beginning of French Open,AITA told me that we (Bhupathi and Sania Mirza) weren’t the obvious choice for mixed doubles in Olympics.”
Referring to Khanna,Bhupathi said the AITA’s executive committee was only about one man.
“I truly believe the executive committee is one man and one man only. That is the way the sport has been governed for a long time” he said.
“Decisions are taken to appease one person and then he hides behind the fact that some committee has taken the decision. I think we are very well aware about who has taken the decision,” he said referring to the ban and issues that cropped up before the London Games.
“A lot of the members of the executive committee are passionate about sports and if they have any shame towards what they have not been able to deliver then they should resign and let the next generation actually do something.”
Though the two players’ differences are well-documented,Bhupathi refrained from saying anything against Paes.
“Leander is not to be blamed for this. He is playing the part of a professional tennis player and he wants to do the best he can do for himself. It is no secret that who should have been the right choice for mixed doubles in the Olympics based on past performance.
“We had won the French open literally two weeks before the deadline. Two days after I won,the AITA told me point blank,sorry you guys are not the obvious option.
“Now you have to prove at Wimbledon. There is a limit to what I can do. I heard that out and I knew my back was against the wall. And I had to pray to get a chance at the Olympics.”
Against Khanna,he further stated that the tennis chief did not like the fact that Bhupathi has “access through different avenues”.
“Anil has a problem that perhaps I have access through different avenues through which I can do for the sport. I am quasi doing what he should be doing.
“Developing talent,opening academies. Multiple times in my career I have gone to Anil Khannna and extended a hand and said let’s do things together. He always wanted control and never wanted to show he was joining hands with players so that never worked out.”
Talking about the ban further,he said,”Apparently they are saying it is the ethics committee. Based on an article in a newspaper,they don’t have a code of conduct.”
And regarding the drama surrounding the Olympic selection,he said: “We felt that we had five out of six members leaning towards sending two teams. But there is always politics going on.
“The executive committee when they heard about this decision,they passed a mandate that we have decided to send only one team. Every step of the way ,we tried to do everything by the book. Every step of the way no matter want we did,he kind of shut us out.”
Asked why he did not say anything earlier,Bhupathi said: “I was doing my own work as much as I could. It has been frustrating for everyone concerned. Why have I kept quite… There was a pipeline of stuff that we were doing in tennis. (But) this (the ban) was the tilting point.
“A lot of that is good work and lot of hat will bear fruit soon. When he and the committee kind of had the foresight to slap a ban on me after 18 years was the tilting point.”
Questioned on why he does not contest the elections,Bhupathi said,”No one can contest the elections at present as there is a lot of loopholes in the system.”
He also did not want his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna to be dragged into the controversy any further.
“Rohan will play for many more years and he needs to continue with a different partner,may be someone like Aisam (Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan) or some youngster like him.
“I don’t want Rohan to come in a problematic situation. He should stay away from this as he has a long career ahead of him.”
About running his own academy,he said,”I am not doing anything to make a point. It is for promoting players as I love tennis.”
Talking about the AITA,Bhupathi said: “All the federation had to do was say the top guys are going to get a pick like they did in Austria federation. It is a lack of communication and a lack of proactiveness.
“Growing up myself as a kid I learnt about the frustration Vijay Amritraj went through,how he fought the federation. Then leander took against them for semi final of Davis cup. It has been going on for 45 years and still the same people are running the federation. The structure is so watertight that nobody can do anything about it.
“I am happy to help AITA. In 2007 when i retired for the first time from Davis cup,i personally asked Anil Khanna to put me on advisory board,i am happy to help. They never extended support,” he further added.