"If you want funds, make yourself available to play for India." That's the message from the Sports Ministry. And though the Ministry hasn't taken any names, it's clear that the diktat is targeted at India's top tennis players. Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Devvarman had chosen to skip the Asian Games in Incheon, in favour of tournaments on the professional ATP tour. But it appears to be a situation where the Sports Ministry looks like it was in a rush to pull up the players, without even understanding their situation. (Also read: Sarita Devi Asian Games reaction was one-off, Says Indian Olympics Boss)
For the ministry, the tennis players were selfish to choose cash over country. And a repeat offence will lead to complete ineligibility for government funds. The diktat has got the backing of the Indian Olympic Asssociation as well. "The government is right in asking athletes to put India first", N Ramachandran, President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), told NDTV.
But money is not why India's players backed out. Infact, since the London Olympics in 2012, India's tennis players have not received any government funding at all. "We're not sure why, but since London 2012, we haven't got any government funding. It's an issue that we're looking at with the Ministry, and we hope it gets resolved soon. If players are told that they are being funded, I see no reason why they should not make themselves available", India's current Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali, told NDTV.
The reason to skip the Asian Games in Incheon was so that the players could work on their rankings and points on the professional tour, that gives them entries to bigger tournaments, including the Grand Slams. Somdev Devvarman, who is struggling to return to the top 100 of the ATP rankings, played a coupe of Challenger tournaments in India, to work on his rankings.
"If they would have gone to Incheon, they would have won medals for sure, and won lakhs of money from the central and state governments. Rather than that, they were here, playing Challenger tournaments which offer lower prize money. There is no questioning their commitment for the country at all. It is not money for which our boys skipped the Asian Games", Anil Khanna, President of the All India Tennis Association, told NDTV.
Interestingly, the Sports Ministry's diktat on funding comes at a time when they are threatening to derecognisee the All India Tennis Association for not following the government Sports Code as far as their elections are concerned. But while it maybe wrong to question the players' commitment and call them selfish, there's perhaps a lesson to be learnt from this episode. With better planning and better distribution of funds, players will certainly be able to prioritise their tournaments accordingly.