First the players threaten and then AITA serves a compromise formula
Sports federations and selection committees in India have had to cope ad nauseum with intense scrutiny and relentless attack. The jury is still out on whether the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and its selection committee should be held responsible for the imbroglio around the selection of the team for the London Olympics.
For me,there was a sense of déjà vu. I recalled the many times my own sport,hockey,had been through similar controversies. In 1968,before the Mexico Olympics,two players,Prithipal Singh and Gurubux Singh,were involved in a battle for captaincy. While the Punjab players swore allegiance to Prithipal,others backed Gurubux. As a compromise formula,the selection committee,in its prudence,decided to name both the fullbacks as joint captains for the Olympics!
Having captained an Olympic team many years later,I could imagine the trauma that team must have had to endure with two lines of communication. Little wonder that India did not make it to the 1968 hockey finals for the first time ever in an Olympics. In the days when hockey was played on grass,this was unthinkable.
The compromise formula reared its head again when AITA announced the doubles pairs for London. Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had their way in the end,buoyed by their commitment to play together for the period leading up to the Olympics. While it appears to be game,set and match for the Banaglore boys in the off-court duel,one needs to dwell on whether Leander Paes has actually lost out. Was this compromise in the mens team made to ensure that Lee got a shot at the mixed doubles medal with Sania Mirza? Whichever way that decision goes and whether or not Mirza agrees to play with Paes,it is pretty certain that again a compromise has been made in terms of selection. The No. 1 mens pair,as identified by AITA,is not going to play at London. If Mirza gets a wild card and partners Paes,there too Indias No. 1 team may not be playing since Bhupathi and Mirza seem to be more comfortable as a pair and have a French Open title to boot.
Looking at it dispassionately,one feels disappointed on two counts. First,for the cloak and dagger charade that was played out,with the main protagonists being the cream of Indian sports. Paes,Bhupathi and Bopanna have hitherto been epitomes of good behaviour,but their recent postures were way out of line and far below the high expectations that one has from them. Wheres that good old dash of sportsmanship,guys?
Second,because AITAs inability to implement its selection committees decision erodes credibility in the administration. When players select teams,it is time to act. Possessing the ability to cajole is as important as having the gumption to wield the stick if the situation so warrants.
Bhupathi and Bopanna may go on to win a medal for themselves and India at London. So too may Paes and Mirza. It is our fervent prayer that they do. It would be an honour to see the Tricolour hoisted,with our stars on the podium. Yet the possibility of this happening would have been more had we gone with our first choice teams. Professionalism in approach is not confined only to the playing arena. The selection process,training regimen and overall administration need to be done with precision and rigour. Selecting a doubles team in tennis is not as simple as it may seem,given the fact that individual rankings of players do play a part in the ultimate decision. However,a more convincing selection policy,communicated well in advance,could have probably given greater clarity.
The camaraderie in an Olympic village is difficult to explain with no borders between countries and great mutual respect between participants. Within the Indian contingent too there is a seamless bonding. In the 1988 Seoul Games,when professional tennis was introduced for the first time,Vijay and Anand Amritraj became great friends of the hockey team. While we went to see Vijay play Henri Leconte,Vijay and Anand provided vocal support when we defeated Korea. The idyllic environs of the London Games Village could provide the backdrop to thaw the cold vibes between Indian tennis stars. Though we may not see chest bumps on court,it will be reassuring to hear about renewed bonhomie in their personal relationships.
The writer is a former India hockey captain and three-time Olympian,firstname.lastname@example.org