Hyderabad: As the news of the complete capitulation of the Indian tennis contingent at Tokyo Olympics began to sink in — even as the hopes in badminton are high for a sui generis and first gold — sportspersons, parents, coaches and fans blame the gormless atavistic attitudes and policies of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and its state bodies.
Consider the ban imposed by the Telangana State Tennis Association, the state chapter of AITA, on local tournaments being played across the state.
“It has been observed there are private local tennis tournaments being organised in Telangana. Organisers need to be informed that without prior approval or sanction of the TSTA, such tournaments are not permitted,” the body said on February 10, 2021.
“I tried to organise a tennis tournament,” said a coach. “The association tried to arm-twist saying I could not. Then they demanded I make a payment for permission. Even to coach, one must be registered with them for which we have to pay.”Last year, association secretary-general Anil Dhupar "objected" to local tennis tournaments being played across India under Universal Tennis Rating (UTR), saying, “These tournaments being conducted without permission of AITA are strictly banned.” He asked state authorities to refrain from "encouraging” any local tennis tournament. The AITA threatened that it would take action against players or entities conducting tournaments by de-recognizing or de-registering them.
Imagine the implications — if you wish to organise a tennis tournament for children, you can’t. Take permission first. Ideal recipe for a gold medal in the Olympics. If you raise your voice, the association has a long memory; which will "not help your players, or children". So most parents keep quiet.
Not all parents get intimidated though. The issue got highlighted after some parents petitioned against the move.
Chakravarthy Nalamotu, parent of a young tennis player, led the petition drive and got it signed by parents from across the country, including many from Hyderabad, Manipal, Patna, besides the USA and Africa.
He said Universal Tennis Rating (UTR, a system that rates a person on the basis of playing skills, irrespective of age or gender) is a criteria considered by universities in the United States and other countries for accepting students.
“To get a good UTR, our children and other players play matches conducted by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). But AITA, which is a semi-government body, has blatantly declared that players can be playing only under tournaments conducted by the AITA,” Nalamotu said.
Concurring, Dave Fish, tennis coach at Harvard University, who supported the petition, said, “The UTR system is now being recognised by many college coaches as the best metric available for judging junior talent.”
Parents requested AITA to either tie up with UTR, like the ITF, Asian Tennis Federation (ATF), and United States Tennis Association (USTA) have done, to encourage and motivate the children, or let the children play tournaments that are based under both the AITA and UTR.
Speaking about tennis and its importance for children, Nalamotu said, “Tennis comes to life when tournaments are organized. Children get to real practice and improve their game. I wrote to AITA and TSTA to organise tournaments after the lockdown was lifted. But there was no response from their side,” he added.
He said he came across some people who organised local tournaments, but were threatened by the association. “Associations dont reply to parents, but they call organisers of local tournaments and threaten them or and extract money,” said a parent.Another petitioner, a tennis coach, who was stopped from organising tournaments at the local level, said, “We used to do tournaments under India Tennis League (ITL) at a local level. We then shifted to UTR in 2018 to help young players. Last year, around September, I was told not to conduct any tournaments.”
“AITA banning these local tournaments is a setback for all players. Local tournaments give good practice to the players, thus making them strong enough to compete at state, national as well as international levels,” the coach added.
By stopping local initiative and conduct of tournaments, the biggest enemy of excellence is the association, whose bureaucracy seeks power over the game rather than care for results.
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, Ashok Kumar, honorary secretary of the TSTA, said, “If something goes wrong in these tournaments people will come to us, which is why we banned it.”
He justified the ban but added, “We care for tennis more than anything else. We want all coaches and tournaments to seek permission three weeks before they organise it.”
No doubt, with so much association power, the Indian team crashed out of the Olympics. It was not a loss of the players but the failure of the association.