AITA asks sports ministry to convince warring players

New Delhi: The All India Tennis Association (AITA) Monday asked the sports ministry to convince Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna to team up with Leander Paes for the sake of the country at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

AITA's newly-selected secretary-general Bharat Ojha told IANS from Mumbai that the sports ministry should also "ask Bhupathi and Bopanna why they are now refusing to play with Paes when they had given an undertaking while accepting government funding for training".

"Professional egos should be set aside for the sake of the country. Even when they were reportedly not on talking terms they have won some 20 Davis Cup doubles matches playing together," said Ojha.

Ojha's comments came after Sports Minister Ajay Maken Monday asked AITA to explain why it was keen on fielding the pair of Paes and Bhupathi at the London Games when they have returned empty-handed from the past four Olympics. Paes had won a singles bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Ojha said it was high time for Bhupathi to set aside his personal differences and team up with Paes.

"Such problems happen in others sports as well but country comes first. We understand Bhupathi has issues with Paes but what about Bopanna? We will again talk with Bopanna and will try to clear the issue," he said.

Earlier, Maken asked AITA to submit its reply by Tuesday afternoon on why it was insisting on sending one team when they have the option of sending two teams.

Maken's decision to step in came on a day when Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in a joint mail requested the sport ministry to step in and solve the selection fiasco.

"The government has been funding and supporting multiple players to train and qualify for the Olympics. The justification of denying two players (Bhupathi and Bopanna) who have qualified as a team on merit by sending one Indian team when India can send two teams may be explained," Maken said.

"Both Bhupathi and Bopanna have officially declined the opportunity to play with Paes in the current scenario. With two days left for the deadline, wouldn't AITA be sending Paes with a youngster to represent India at London Olympics. AITA's action is depriving India of sending another team to London. The reason must be explained," he said.

Maken also asked AITA why it ignored the fact that Bhupathi and Bopanna qualified for the Olympics as a team on the basis of their combined rankings.

"It is not clear why is AITA insisting on sending a team that has represented India (unsuccessfully) in four previous Olympics, especially when the team of Leander and Mahesh have returned empty-handed each time and when both have openly voiced their concerns about playing together.

"It may also be intimated whether the AITA had spoken to all the three players and consulted them and whether their opinion have been taken before arriving at the decision," he said.

Earlier in the day, Bopanna and Bhupathi in a letter to Maken said AITA's decision to field one team defied logic.

"At a time when country is doing its best to improve its Olympic record, the stance taken by the AITA of refusing to the nominate the team which has already qualified and instead nominating two players who have played (unsuccessfully) in the past four editions is bemusing and difficult for us to understand," Bhupathi-Bopanna said in the joint mail.

Two Indian doubles teams can compete in the mega event as the World No.7 Paes is eligible to choose the player of his choice on the basis of his individual ranking while seventh-ranked Bhupathi and Bopanna qualify as a team.

The duo argued that AITA should have communicated them if they were planning to send only one team.

"At no point did AITA suggest that we would be considered as anything but a team; in fact, their correspondence of March 2012 states that "we have great possibility of having two doubles teams in the Olympic main draw". If the objective, as proved by later events, was to send only one team, why was this not communicated to us," the duo of Bhupathi and Bopanna said. (IANS)