Ace player Mahesh Bhupathi lashed out today at India's tennis association AITA, which has banned him from playing for the country for two years. Bhupathi accused the association of harming the sport and said tennis in the country was a disaster right now. Thanks, he said, to the association, which he also accused of being "extremely vindictive."
"Unfortunately the reality of the situation is anyway I have played my last match for India," Bhupathi said at a press conference here.
Already 38, the tennis star felt that it would not be possible for him to represent the Indian flag after serving the 2-year ban, effectively bringing the curtains down on one of the country's best doubles player.
"I always feel like playing for India. Tennis is an individual sport and we barely get to represent the country once or twice a year. Two years is a long time," he stated.
There was anger, anguish and there was resignation as 38-year-old Bhupathi said, "Anyway I see it, I have played the last match for India." Over the weekend, the AITA (All India Tennis Association) banned Bhupathi and his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna from representing the country till June 30, 2014 on disciplinary grounds - Bhupathi had refused to team up with India's tennis ace Leander Paes at the London Olympics this year, forcing the association to send two men's doubles team.
Today he said, "Being banned after playing for the country for 18 years was tilting. We had no option but to accept it." In a statement that Bhupathi read from, his long years playing for the country were a leit motif. He has taken umbrage at his integrity being challenged by the association, he said. "My being termed a dictator is unacceptable to me. I don't know if we can do anything, but there is no option not to accept the ban. We will definitely pursue a legal route. (My) lawyers are deciding the course of action, can't say much now."
Bhupathi or Hesh as he is fondly known as among friends and fans, says he has no grudge against Paes, whom he partnered for many years before the two fell out. He isn't the one to be blamed. He is a professional player, who is doing his job," Bhupathi said.
It was AITA president Anil Khanna, whom the tennis veteran singled out for the brunt of his attack, saying he had taken advantage of the rift between him and Leander Paes. "Anil Khanna used Leander's shoulder to train the gun at me and people thought there was problem between us," Bhupathi said, adding, "Anil Khanna redefined the term 'Divide and Rule'," Bhupathi said.
He confirmed that he was now exploring legal action against the AITA and said it "continues to misuse their power to teach me a lesson". And in that crossfire, he said, his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna was caught. "Rohan is extremely upset. For his best, he should stay away from all this. He still has 8-10 years of tennis left. We know how vindictive these people can be," Bhupathi said.
Hesh said he was sure that had he advanced in the Olympics doubles event, the tennis body would not have banned him. AITA secretary general Bharat Oza clarified on Sunday that it was not a ban but a lesson for the two players, who had rebelled against the association's decision of pairing them with Leander Paes for the 2012 London Games.
"It's not worth a rebellion. It won't change anything. I don't know whom to complain to. If it's under the minister, I'd like to tell him what a disaster Indian tennis is," Bhupathi said. He urged the either the Sports Ministry or the IOA to intervene.
Despite giving his all, he said he never got the cooperation from AITA.
"Tennis has given me everything I am today and by God's grace I am able to give back a lot to the sport. I have running tennis events, building tennis courts, raising money for talented kids and even opening academies across the country.
"However, at every step of the way, the establishment has put spokes in the wheel. So much so that they changed the constitution to make sure I am not able to run any event in India without them being a part of it.
"Anil has been upset with me for being able to develop talent, which he should have done. For developing avenue and for developing the game."
Talking about the fiasco ahead of the Games, he said: "No one made an effort to talk to me or Leander. Zero effort was made to get us in a room and solve the issue.
"Two days after the beginning of French Open, AITA told me that we (Bhupathi and Sania Mirza) weren't the obvious choice for mixed doubles in Olympics."
Referring to Khanna, Bhupathi said the AITA's executive committee was only about one man.
"I truly believe the executive committee is one man and one man only. That is the way the sport has been governed for a long time" he said.
"Decisions are taken to appease one person and then he hides behind the fact that some committee has taken the decision. I think we are very well aware about who has taken the decision," he said referring to the ban and issues that cropped up before the London Games.
"A lot of the members of the executive committee are passionate about sports and if they have any shame towards what they have not been able to deliver then they should resign and let the next generation actually do something."
Though the two players' differences are well-documented, Bhupathi refrained from saying anything against Paes.
"Leander is not to be blamed for this. He is playing the part of a professional tennis player and he wants to do the best he can do for himself. It is no secret that who should have been the right choice for mixed doubles in the Olympics based on past performance.
"We had won the French open literally two weeks before the deadline. Two days after I won, the AITA told me point blank, sorry you guys are not the obvious option.
"Now you have to prove at Wimbledon. There is a limit to what I can do. I heard that out and I knew my back was against the wall. And I had to pray to get a chance at the Olympics."
Against Khanna, he further stated that the tennis chief did not like the fact that Bhupathi has "access through different avenues".
"Anil has a problem that perhaps I have access through different avenues through which I can do for the sport. I am quasi doing what he should be doing.
"Developing talent, opening academies. Multiple times in my career I have gone to Anil Khanna and extended a hand and said let's do things together. He always wanted control and never wanted to show he was joining hands with players so that never worked out."
Talking about the ban further, he said, "Apparently they are saying it is the ethics committee. Based on an article in a newspaper, they don't have a code of conduct."
And regarding the drama surrounding the Olympic selection, he said: "We felt that we had five out of six members leaning towards sending two teams. But there is always politics going on.
"The executive committee when they heard about this decision, they passed a mandate that we have decided to send only one team. Every step of the way , we tried to do everything by the book. Every step of the way no matter want we did, he kind of shut us out."
Asked why he did not say anything earlier, Bhupathi said: "I was doing my own work as much as I could. It has been frustrating for everyone concerned. Why have I kept quite... There was a pipeline of stuff that we were doing in tennis. (But) this (the ban) was the tilting point.
"A lot of that is good work and lot of hat will bear fruit soon. When he and the committee kind of had the foresight to slap a ban on me after 18 years was the tilting point."
Questioned on why he does not contest the elections, Bhupathi said, "No one can contest the elections at present as there is a lot of loopholes in the system."
He also did not want his doubles partner Rohan Bopanna to be dragged into the controversy any further.
"Rohan will play for many more years and he needs to continue with a different partner, may be someone like Aisam (Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan) or some youngster like him.
"I don't want Rohan to come in a problematic situation. He should stay away from this as he has a long career ahead of him."
About running his own academy, he said, "I am not doing anything to make a point. It is for promoting players as I love tennis."
(With PTI inputs)