Maken retreats; AITA, Bhupathi back to square one (Roundup)

June 19th, 2012 - 8:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Rohan Bopanna New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) Mahesh Bhupathi Tuesday stuck to his guns of not playing the London Olympics with his estranged friend Leander Paes after Sports Minister Ajay Maken made it clear that it was not his business to tell All India Tennis Association (AITA) what its selection criteria should be.

After Maken washed his hands of the issue, Bhupathi reiterated his stand of not pairing up with Paes come what may and if he has to play in London it will be none other than his city-mate from Bangalore Rohan Bopanna.

Maken after jumping the gun Monday by wondering why AITA cannot send two teams to London when it is entitled to quickly retraced his steps in less than 24 hours by stating that it is tennis selectors’ call and not his or his ministry’s.

Bhupathi had approached Maken after AITA named him and Paes as the doubles team for London with the proposal that India is entitled to field two teams and he should partner Bopanna in one of them. By inference it means that Paes should play with either Yuki Bhambri or Vishnu Vardhan, both Davis Cuppers.

AITA took umbrage to Bhupathi’s suggestion saying that it was an insult to India’s best doubles player and one who qualified for the Olympics on merit by being in the top ten in the rankings for doubles players.

The backtracking by minister is a big jolt for both Bhupathi and Bopanna. AITA has again asked Bhupathi to reconsider his decision, but within a couple of hours of the minister’s statement, Bhupathi said there was no change in his stand not to play with Paes.

Clarifying his statement Monday that AITA should think of sending two doubles teams for London, Maken said he did it only because some “prominent and iconic” players brought to his notice certain issues concerning selection.

Maken said he does not wish to be a part of the selection process.

“The sports ministry doesn’t wish to be a part of the selection process. It had raised with AITA certain issues which had been brought to its notice by certain eminent and iconic players,” said Maken.

“In the meeting held in the ministry today with AITA officials, certain options were suggested by AITA in the prevailing circumstance. The sports ministry advised the AITA to exercise the option which is in the best of national interest,” he added in the statement released after the meeting.

Earlier in the day, AITA defended its decision to pair Paes with Bhupathi and said that “asking Leander to pair with a junior player (Bhambri or Vardhan) would be the most inappropriate decision.”

AITA secretary-general Bharat Oza said that asking Paes to pair up with a junior will be an insult to the Atlanta Games singles bronze medallist, who enjoys great respect in the international tennis circuit. Paes is the only Indian tennis player to win an Olympic medal.

AITA also gave five options to the sports ministry to sort out the issue.

“Ask the players to follow the decision of the selection committee consisting of five Davis Cup players and one Federation 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 Mahesh does not want to play with Leander, Bopanna should play with Leander as 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 Rohan 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.

AITA president Anil Khanna said sending one team for the 2012 London Olympics is the best option to win a medal and it would again try to convince Bhupathi and Bopanna to patch-up with Paes.

“Today we have underlined five possible options to the sports ministry and they completely agree with us. Asking Leander to pair up with World No.207 or 306 is meaningless. For India the best medal option is just one pair and not two just sending two teams for fillers,” said Khanna after a meeting with sports ministry.

“Leander and Mahesh are India’s best medal hopes. But if Mahesh refuses to pair with Leander then we will ask Rohan Bopanna. We will try to convince both Mahesh and Bopanna to again team up with Leander,” he said.

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