The All India Tennis Association (AITA) was constituted eight years before the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) came into being, in 1920. The All India Tennis Association operates all of the Indian national representative tennis sides, including the India Davis Cup team, the India Fed Cup team and youth sides as well. AITA is also responsible for organising and hosting tennis tournaments within India and scheduling the home international fixtures. It is the governing body of tennis in India. However, in the past many years, AITA has earned a reputation for itself which is hardly helpful to the upliftment of Indian tennis players. The AITA finds itself embroiled in needless controversies time and again, badly damaging its reputation as a body that can lead Indian tennis into greater glories.
In the latest controversy which has cast doubts on the ability of AITA to keep its act together, Sumit Nagal has gotten into a feud with the body over his refusal to compete in the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Finland. On August 28, Nagal had written to AITA that a hip injury would not allow him to compete against Finland because playing on hard courts could increase the severity of his injury. However, Nagal continues to compete on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Therefore, in response, the AITA has vowed action against its player. It said, “To see our player Sumit Nagal playing other tournaments and not playing Davis Cup is upsetting…We are definitely going to take this matter up once we are back (from Finland). We want him in the Davis Cup team. Let’s see what appropriate action we can take once we are back. We expect our top players to make themselves available (for the national team).”Meanwhile, Sasi Kumar Mukund also declined to play the event.
The AITA must ask itself why its players are not competing in the premier Davis Cup event, and why the body is having to respond to inner tensions publicly. The AITA has quite a habit of splashing itself all over the media, ultimately hurting the players’ confidence and interest in tennis as a whole. For many years now, the AITA has proven to be a useless organisation whose only task is to take down players publicly, not provide them with all resources which they require, function as a lethargic bureaucratic den and deprive Indian tennis of the opportunity to flourish.
Not very long ago, India’s former No.1 tennis player Somdev Devvarman had launched a scathing attack against the AITA, much like every other tennis player does during their career. Devvarman probed, “I want to ask (AITA) what is your vision for Indian tennis and how will you accomplish it. Leave the government aside, they are not tennis experts. Do you think you have done a good job? I don’t want to attack anyone. I am just asking straight-forward questions.” These were all valid questions, to which the AITA had no answers.
Somdev Devvarman was not the first person to come after the AITA. Devvarman had directed anger at the AITA after the government slashed funding for the Centre of Excellence (COE) for tennis. After Devvarman, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan – who had played the 2019 Australian Open Men’s doubles draw took on the AITA. He lamented how the AITA was not fulfilling the needs of Indian tennis players, who were suffering from a perpetual scarcity of resources, thus affecting their performance.
He said, “The AITA helped me in my juniors, but I haven’t got anything (financially) since. And that’s when the real test of your tennis career starts.”
The Lack of Resources for Indian Tennis Players
According to The Bridge, a player who is within the Top 50 in the global rankings has an annual expense of $2,00,000-$5,00,000.For instance, Somdev Devvarman, whose career lasted for 9 years, made only $1.4 million. For an average Top 50 player who makes, say $2 million, $0.75 to $1.5 million would be spent on a coach. The rest of the money is spent on physios, travel, food and equipment. Needless to say, an Indian player can’t survive with such financial constraints. Yet, the AITA has time and again failed to provide players with all that they require to excel.
In July this year, tennis player Rohan Bopanna slammed the All India Tennis Association (AITA) for playing with the careers of players, and he went on to label the federation “incompetent”. Bopanna slammed the AITA for not ensuring the entry of him and Sumit Nagal in the Tokyo Olympics. Rohan Bopanna, to prove his point, even shared an alleged call recording with AITA Secretary-General, Anil Dhupar, in which the latter can be heard saying that the International Tennis Federation had accepted the entries of Bopanna and Sumit Nagal for the Tokyo Olympics.
In a tweet, Bopanna said, “AITA Secretary General blatantly lying saying ITF accepted the entry. Stop LYING to everyone and it’s time for a change. It’s been 50+ years all players have suffered thanks to the federation incompetence.”
In 2012, veteran tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi accused the AITA of resorting to a “divide-and-rule” policy and said its “dictatorial attitude” will be harmful to the future of Indian tennis. He accused the AITA of playing “dirty politics” and creating a rift among players, particularly between him and Leander Paes. Back then, the well-known tennis player had said, “As far as I am concerned, I was always banned by the AITA, they never supported anything I did for the sport, only when they couldn’t do without me and they needed the doubles point in Davis Cup, I got the email.”
Bhupathi was speaking in the context of him being banned for two years by the AITA. He also accused the AITA of stooping so low, that it changed its very constitution to ensure that he was not able to run any event in India without them being a part of it. Mahesh Bhupathi, as is largely known, has been at the forefront of training budding talent and organising tennis events in India. Yet, instead of supporting him, AITA made sure that his efforts were jeopardised.
The Absolute Apathy of AITA
The AITA requires an overhaul and a restructuring. It is simply unfit and unmotivated to serve the best interests of Indian tennis, and perhaps, even compromised. For decades now, the AITA has made life hell for tennis players, who are hounded to an extent that they are forced to reveal their horrors to the media. They are not funded well and are left to fend for themselves.
How many Indians know the names of tennis players currently at the top of their game in India? Not many. The last of tennis players which Indian memory still houses are the likes of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, which itself has much to do with the feud between the two which received ample media coverage. The most widely known ‘Indian’ tennis player is, of course, Sania Mirza. But these are pretty much players of the past now. What has the AITA done to popularise tennis in India? What has it done to tap into the talent and nurture it? Not much.
According to the All India Tennis Association, in Davis Cup ties between 1921 and 1929, India defeated, among others, France, Romania, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Greece. Top Indian players like Saleem, Fayzee brothers, Cotah Ramaswamy and Krishna Prasad defeated a large number of ranked European players and teams to bring glory to the nation. In the 1960s, the sport witnessed a golden era. Ramanathan Krishnan earned his highest seeding – No. 4 in Wimbledon in 1962. In the Davis Cup, India repeatedly became the Zonal Champion. Ramanathan Krishnan, along with Premjit Lall, SP Misra, Jaidip Mukerjea and RK Khanna as the non-playing captain, steered India to the Cup finals in 1966.
Why has India not been able to replicate such historical glory in recent years? It is because the players are constantly at odds with their governing body, which seems hellbent on ensuring that tennis in the country is inhibited. The government must step in and ensure that the AITA is cleaned up. Indian tennis can no longer be allowed to suffer due to the ineptitude of a single body.