The Indian sports ministry’s recent reiteration of a diktat, released on July 18, 2013, to all recognised National Sports Federations about players having to compulsorily make themselves available to play for India if they wish to avail grants, is unfair to say the least. The release did not name the nation’s top tennis stars Somdev Devvarman, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, but was aimed at them as they had refused to participate in the Incheon Asiad, citing the loss of rankings points on the ATP circuit.
The babus sitting in air conditioned offices in the national Capital know little about the sweat and toil of a professional sportsperson. Playing professional sport requires massive funding, which the government does not provide. It only pays for training and aspects like food, travel, for only the top players in the run-up to a Davis Cup, Olympics, Asian Games and CWG. However, few know that it costs any Indian player to the tune of Rs 50 lakh to Rs 2 crore to be part of the ATP Tour.
In Indian tennis, there is near-negligible funding provided by the government at the junior level, and a player has to shell out millions, most of which is spent in international travel.
India’s most accomplished tennis star, Paes’ father Dr Vece, had no qualms in admitting that he had to borrow lakhs of rupees from friends when Leander was working his way up the tennis ladder as a youngster. It’s no wonder, then, that hordes of lesser talented young players have fallen by the wayside due to lack of funding. The government never stepped in for them.
Coming back to the case of Somdev, Paes and Bopanna skipping the Asian Games, the government conveniently forgot that these very senior players have featured in, and won, gold medals at previous Asian Games and CWG.
They will continue to do so in future, too, but the government must understand that there will also be tough situations where a player has no choice but to choose salvaging his career over national interest.