India’s top tennis players wiggle for better support

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CHENNAI, India — In a revival of last summer’s operatic bickering over the Olympics, India’s top tennis players are once again locked in a bitter row with the national tennis association.

Eight players banded together last week at the Chennai Open, India’s only top tennis tournament, and sent a letter to the All India Tennis Association demanding personnel and financial changes in the effort to the country’s Davis Cup before agreeing to play in South Korea in February. .

An association official responded by saying any new agreement with the players should include a disciplinary code, which angered the players. Since then, relations have deteriorated further.

Detailed and lengthy letters have become public, with both sides saying some demands are non-negotiable. Players requested a specific physiotherapist, that all players benefit from similar travel arrangements and that the transparent distribution of prize money. The association agreed to increase the players’ share of the prize money, but said its officials would select the team captain and support staff.

In comments to the media, association officials said they would no longer negotiate with players and may cut government subsidies to those who refuse to play next month. Some players receive government training grants of up to 1.5 million rupees, or just over $27,000.

“Players who want to play for India will get all the support,” Hironmoy Chatterjee, chief executive of the tennis association, told the Press Trust of India.

Mahesh Bhupathi, one of eight players who threatened to boycott the Davis Cup, said in an interview he was confident a solution would be found.

“At the end of the day, we’re not asking for the moon,” he said. “These are basic requirements.”

The tennis mess is just one of a series of issues that have plagued top-tier sports in India over the past year. In December, the International Olympic Committee suspended the Indian Olympic Association, an extremely embarrassing episode that remains unresolved. India’s boxing and archery federations have also been suspended.

The country’s sports associations have been plagued by nepotism and corruption, making India, despite its vast population and growing economic power, a paper tiger in most international competitions. India has only won 26 Olympic medals, less than Slovakia or Ireland. The 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi were marred by poor facilities, disorganization and allegations of corruption. Match-fixing scandals have recently rocked even cricket, India’s true sporting passion.

India does not have a tennis player ranked in the top 200 in singles. His two best players are Leander Paes and Bhupathi, doubles specialists who won three Grand Slam titles together but had a resentful breakup. The enmity between the two is so intense that Bhupathi and his new partner, Rohan Bopanna, have threatened not to play in the Olympics if either is paired with Paes. In turn, Paes threatened not to play unless partnered with Bhupathi or Bopanna, another of the players involved in the boycott threat.

In the end, Paes agreed to play men’s doubles with a lower-ranked Indian player if he was allowed to play mixed doubles with Sania Mirza, India’s top-ranked woman and Bhupathi’s longtime partner in mixed doubles. Mirza accepted the change but complained about machismo on the part of the association.

“As a 21st century Indian, what I find disappointing is the humiliating manner in which I have been cast as bait in an attempt to appease one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis,” a- she said last summer.

Mirza and Paes, who won 13 Grand Slam doubles and mixed doubles titles, lost in the quarter-finals. India failed to win any tennis medals in London and sports commentators brutalized nearly everyone involved in the fiasco.

In September, the tennis association banned Bhupathi and Bopanna from playing for India for two years over the Olympic disputes, an action that prompted Bhupathi to hold a press conference to criticize the “dictatorial rule” of the ‘association. The suit has since been stayed by an Indian court.

Now a new generation of young players have joined Bhupathi’s fight against the tennis association because many have played in the United States and have taken a liking to effective sports management, said Sukhwant Basra, national sports editor for The Hindustan. Times. “They are educated children from good families who raise questions about things that the older generation took for granted,” he said. “It was about time for this to happen.”

Continuing his role as the tennis association’s favorite player, Paes said he would play in the Davis Cup. On Tuesday, the tennis association asked the Indian government for permission to select Prakash Amritraj, a US citizen, to play for India in the Davis Cup despite a government policy prohibiting non-citizens from playing for the nation. Chatterjee, the tennis association’s chief executive, told Reuters the association would choose its Davis Cup roster from players who declare their availability by Thursday.

Rahul Mehra, a lawyer who sued the tennis association as well as other sports governing bodies in India, said corrupt and reckless sports management had led generations of players in India to miss out their potential. Current controversies, he said, could finally bring about the necessary changes.

“Indian sports have reached an all-time low,” he said. “But one day we will put the right infrastructure in place and India will become a sports superpower.”

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