EXCLUSIVE | "Rohan Bopanna is to be blamed here" - AITA hits back at tennis stars
Upset by developments, AITA Sec-Gen, Anil Dhupar retorts back sharply against allegations made by Rohan Bopanna and pleads a clean chit.
If you thought things cannot be blown out of proportion, we will need you to pause and divert your attention to the mudslinging affair going on in Indian tennis between veteran tennis players Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza against the All India Tennis Association (AITA) body. When it comes to the Olympics and tennis in this country, there is drama always lurking to unfurl and with the Tokyo Olympics just 3 days away - controversies have once again been concocted with both sides - players and the Federation going all out against each other.
Making matters worse with the drop of a series of tweets, the 41-year-old senior tennis player, Rohan Bopanna pointed all his fingers at the AITA for allegedly misleading them and fanning false hopes to encourage ideas about his chances of making it to the Tokyo Olympics to compete in the Men's Doubles.
Joining the chorus of Rohan Bopanna, 6-time Grand Slam champion and 4th time Olympian, Sania Mirza also called out the AITA and cried out saying that the Federation is responsible for them losing out on a medal chance in the Mixed Doubles.
Bothered and mostly, disappointed by the actions of such senior and reputed players, the Secretary General of the AITA, Anil Dhupar interacted with The Bridge in an exclusive conversation where he relayed his condemnation of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza's behaviour on social media.
"Their comments are most inappropriate, misleading and of course, without knowledge of the rules of qualification of ITF pertaining to the Olympics," Dhupar lashed out immediately, before going on to explain the process of Olympic qualification.
"We have till date applied for nominations for Divij and Rohan - the best doubles players we had for India. They are not qualified," Dhupar said. "On 16th of July, we received an email from ITF saying that Sumit Nagal has qualified for singles. As you must know, in the Olympics the doubles is given first preference to those who are playing singles," he mentioned informatively.
"There is going to be a draw of 32 and out of that 22 goes for singles, while 10 go for doubles. In the case of India, we anyway don't have players who qualify this criteria - so we are out," Dhupar candidly confesses. "Luckily, we got an entry of Sumit Nagal on the 16th of July. It was Friday and we took immediate action and recommended Rohan and Sumit Nagal's name for doubles and hoping he would get some priority as a singles player," the Secretary General of the AITA clarified.
A manipulation of narratives?
Spilling bad blood and indulging in dirty politics unnecessarily has become the norm in Indian tennis - especially when it comes to the Olympics and strangely enough, the senior players of the circuit have been at loggerheads with the AITA on one too many occasions.
Like every coin has two sides, so does every story have two, if not more, sides to it. In the case of this brewing spat between Rohan Bopanna and the AITA, a serious manipulation of narratives has taken place here.
"Rohan had called me that day and I informed him that we had changed the nomination and he was very happy. It was in that call that I mentioned 'let's keep our fingers crossed' and 'let's hope for the best' - the recorded version of which is now being circulated everywhere...what I have done I don't know," a flustered Dhupar conveyed.
Moreover, sharing a call recording with a Federation official to the world and media without obtaining permission of the concerned parties is quite below the belt, especially for the veteran tennis player's standards. Deeply troubled by this breach of privacy, Anil Dhupar once again stressed, "What Rohan is doing is very illegal and without warrant and I really condemn and AITA also condemns his actions."
With Rohan Bopanna tweeting, all hell broke loose as the World No. 41 player portrayed the narrative in a way that made the AITA appear as the villain and shifted the blame entirely on the Federation for Bopanna, the 2016 Rio Games semi-finalist missing the mark.
"Rohan Bopanna is least bothered to improve his game and get points." - Anil Dhupar
Admittedly, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) also kept matters slightly foggy regarding the Olympic qualification which is being used by the players to twist the narrative now. The ITF had mentioned that they will only be accepting fresh nominations in case players fall ill or there are other special circumstances.
"Rohan is using this 'special circumstances' in all his interviews - and there was a 7 hour window to make changes too. But the point is, the ITF mentioned that even if their (Rohan Bopanna and Sumit Nagal's) nomination gets accepted they won't be qualifying. They are now 3rd on the waiting list - at least, I brought Indian players from fifth to the third spot on the list," Dhupar, still bemused by the turn of events relayed.
Not one to mince his words and point out the truth quite boldly, the Secretary General openly pointed back the finger to Rohan Bopanna saying, " You (Rohan Bopanna) have got bad points. You never earned your points despite the Government of India paying so much of a huge amount to you. You are least bothered to improve your game and get points," Dhupar lashed out.
Finding this to be a non-issue given the fact that the duo of neither Rohan Bopanna-Divij Sharan nor Rohan Bopanna-Sumit Nagal will be playing in the Men's Doubles, Anil Dhupar carried on, "If you are Number 5 on the list, you don't qualify. So even if with the change of nominations you come up to Number 3 - it stills means that you haven't qualified. So, what is the issue, how does it matter?"
Illustrating with examples, Dhupar mentions, "Saina Nehwal is our bronze medallist from the 2012 London Olympics. She is out of the Tokyo Olympics because she couldn't secure the berth. So, should we blame the Badminton Association? Take the case of Sakshi Malik even...she won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, still she didn't make the cut..so should we criticise the Wrestling Federation for it?", Dhupar pointedly but rhetorically asks.
Deeply dissatisfied by how the tables flipped over so wildly, Anil Dhupar vented, "Saturday and Sunday the offices are closed and on Monday you started tweeting and telling us that we have been misleading...what is this?", he mentions.
With Rohan Bopanna on his mind, Dhupar criticised saying, "Are you a man of any repute? You are recording a private conversation, which of course wasn't an offensive one - but is this the way a player should behave?"
Further, Dhupar says, "This will only harm the relationship between players and associations of the country. They will be afraid of talking to players over call as they will be unsure if their call is being recorded or not recorded," he mentions.
Continuing on that strain, Dhupar lashed out saying, "They (Rohan-Divij or Rohan-Nagal) were never qualifying from Day 1 - everybody knew that. They are senior players. If they have not got points, they are to blame and not the association," he firmly but realistically puts.
Like the controversies ahead of the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics in the Indian tennis camp circling around the stalwarts of the game - Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi and the AITA, the Tokyo Olympics was headed for a calm start - but it was not to be.
"There was no issue this time as nobody was qualifying. You are only depending on somebody else's withdrawals - is this how you have to think? You are a senior player, a professional one - should you concern yourself only with withdrawals?", Dhupar strongly put forth.
Displeased at being dragged into this unnecessary mess, Dhupar offered two pieces of his mind and suggested, " Gentleman, improve your rankings. Play well. We are proud of your game, don't get into this gandi (dirty) politics."
"How can Sania Mirza say we lost a medal when the men's team didn't even qualify?"
Not only upset with Rohan Bopanna, Anil Dhupar, who is a former player himself also opened up about Sania Mirza's tweet and comments regarding the whole Olympics qualification issue.
"When it comes to Sania...we are proud that she is playing her fourth Olympics but how come she doesn't know that you need to qualify for doubles first to play the Mixed Doubles. How can you say that you have lost a medal, bhai? Your men's team has not qualified, you can't play Mixed Doubles and you are saying that you have lost a medal?," an amused Dhupar divulged.
Continuing his caustic run, Dhupar went on with his suggestions, "Instead, she (Mirza) should have written to this gentleman - 'Look, Rohan, next time please play well, get more points, gain entry and then we will win the Mixed Doubles.' How is the AITA to be responsible for this?," he said.
The pair of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza had made it till the semi-finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics and were within sight of taking home a second medal for India in tennis after Leander Paes' bronze medal win at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Dhupar continued rallying against Mirza and said, "And then she is tweeting, all shocked and saying we have lost a medal… but, how can you? The men's team didn't even get selected and you are saying this, how strange, yaar."
Coming off disgruntled and pretty upset, Dhupar carried on, "This is absolutely not done, this is absolutely not accepted, we at AITA strongly condemn their statements and we condemn the way they have put my recording to the press. This is private - this is not done, you didn't even ask permission. He should understand the Laxman Rekha I would say and know where to stop. Being a big player doesn't mean you get to write, talk whatever you want - no, we will never forget, at least, AITA will never forget," he warningly issues.
For once and all, setting the raging debate to rest from his side and as a closing comment, Anil Dhupar resoundingly says, "AITA is not to be blamed. It is you who are to be blamed. Yes, we are concerned, we feel bad, we are sorry we missed the cut, but that's our bad luck."