New Delhi: The All India Tennis Association (AITA) has backed Leander Paes and said it is meaningless to send the veteran player to the London Olympics with a junior player after both Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to play with him.
The Sports Ministry has also made it clear that that it will leave team selection to Tennis Association. "The Sports Ministry does not wish to be part of selection process. We had raised certain issues because of requests from certain iconic players," Sports Minister Ajay Maken said in a statement. (Read: Maken refuses to intervene)
This comes a day after the ministry intervened to sort out the tennis crisis which could hurt India's medal hopes at the London Olympics. It had asked the AITA why only one team was being sent when India can send two teams for the London Games.
Following Maken's intervention, the AITA had sent a letter to the Ministry detailing its logic for picking the Paes-Bhupathi combination.
The AITA gave five options to the Ministry asking it to suggest the right combination. "Option 1, Leander Paes partners Mahesh Bhupathi. Option 2, Rohan Bopanna partners Leander Paes. Option 3, Leander Paes partners lower-ranked player. Option 4, Mahesh, Rohan play together and Paes doesn't participate. And option 5, Mahesh-Bopanna don't play due to disciplinary reasons," it said in the letter, to which NDTV has an access. (Read: AITA letter to Sports Ministry)
But Maken has left the matter to the body's discretion. "The Sports Ministry leaves it to AITA to exercise any of the options in the best of national interest," he said.
"Whatever needs to be done in the best of national interest, I have asked AITA to do and whenever it needs our help, we will do that and speak to players if they need to be spoken to. I hope that everyone works in national interest," he added.
The Sports Ministry had asked the AITA to explain why Bhupathi and Bopanna were denied to play as team, when India could send two teams. "The Government has been funding and supporting multiple players to train and qualify for the Olympics. The justification of denying two players who have qualified as a team on merit by sending just one Indian team, when India can send two teams may be explained."
"Both Shri Mahesh Bhupathi and Shri Rohan Bopanna have officially declined the opportunity to play with Shri Leander 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. The aforesaid action of AITA is depriving India of sending another team to London Olympics. The reasons for this may be explained.
In its reply, the AITA said: "It would be meaningless to send Leander with a junior player who has not played Grand Slam. Leander being the best player must be paired with either Rohan Bopanna or Mahesh Bhupathi."
Lashing out at both Bhupathi and Bopanna, AITA said, "it should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep the number one player out and publicly suggest in media that No.1 player should go to Olympics with No.5."
AITA explained that if it lets Bhupathi and Bopanna pair, then Paes will be forced to play with either Yuki Bhambri (ranked 306) or Vishnu Vardhan (207) since the more experienced Somdev Devvarman is injured.
Thursday is the last day to submit the names. The AITA will send representatives to London to talk to Bopanna and Bhupathi and break the deadlock.
Bhupathi, on the other hand, has once again refused to play with Paes. Although the AITA is yet write an official letter to him.
On Friday the tennis selectors had announced that only one team will be sent for the men's doubles event at the London Olympics and that will comprise of Bhupathi and Paes.
Bhupathi, however, refused to play with Paes and said: "I have already told the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that I will not be available to play the Olympics if I am paired with Leander. I haven't even spoken to Leander since November."
Bhupathi asked AITA to be sent with his regular doubles partner Bopanna. "Rohan and I would have been the best pairing and we have repeatedly told the AITA that."
After Bhupathi's refusal, the AITA officially approached Bopanna but he too refused their offer yesterday. "With all respect and humility, I have been unable to accept AITA's offer and have communicated my decision to them. Since the beginning of the year, I have partnered with Mahesh Bhupathi towards playing together as a team at the Olympics. This was communicated to the AITA at every step and we were encouraged to continue to play together.
"Having played alongside Leander Paes only twice during my career, I recognise that as a team we are under-prepared for the demands of the Olympics and, in good faith, I could not accept AITA's offer that we play together."
Paes, who had earlier said that he had no problems in teaming up with either of the players, wrote to the AITA yesterday saying it was not fair to send two teams to the Olympics.
"When I sent you my unconditional participation in the Olympics, I believed we would put our best team forward for a Gold Medal. By setting up a second team as suggested by some u would create a situation where your no.1 player and the only Indian in the Top Ten ATP Doubles Rankings would have to play with the no. 5 Indian player. This would not be fair," he wrote in his letter.