New Delhi, June 18 (IANS) Sports Minister Ajay Maken, stepping into the Indian Olympic tennis imbroglio, Monday asked the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to explain why it was keen on fielding the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi pair at the London Games when they had returned empty-handed from the past four Olympics.
Maken asked AITA to submit its reply by Tuesday afternoon on why it was insisting on sending one team when they have the option of sending two teams.
Maken's decision to step in came on a day when Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, in a joint mail, requested the sports ministry to step in and resolve the selection fiasco.
"The government has been funding and supporting multiple players to train and qualify for the Olympics. The justification of denying two players (Bhupathi and Bopanna) who have qualified as a team on merit by sending one Indian team when India can send two teams may be explained," Maken said.
"Both Bhupathi and Bopanna have officially declined the opportunity to play with Paes in the current scenario. With two days left for the deadline, wouldn't AITA be sending Paes with a youngster to represent India at London Olympics. AITA's action is depriving India of sending another team to London. The reason must be explained," he said.
Maken also asked the AITA why it ignored the fact that Bhupathi and Bopanna qualified for the Olympics as a team on the basis of their combined rankings.
"It is not clear why is AITA insisting on sending a team that has represented India in four previous Olympics, especially when the team of Leander and Mahesh have returned empty handed each time and when both have openly voiced their concerns about playing together.
"It may also be intimated whether the AITA had spoken to all the three players and consulted them and whether their opinion have been taken before arriving at the decision," he said.
Earlier in the day, Bopanna and Bhupathi in a letter to Maken said AITA's decision to field one team defied logic.
"At a time when the country is doing its best to improve its Olympic record, the stance taken by the AITA of refusing to nominate the team which has already qualified and instead nominating two players who have played in the past four editions (unsuccessfully) is bemusing and difficult for us to understand," Bhupathi-Bopanna said in the joint mail.
Two Indian doubles teams can compete in the mega event as the World No.7 Paes is eligible to choose the player of his choice on the basis of his individual ranking while seventh-ranked Bhupathi and Bopanna qualify as a team.
The duo argued that AITA should have communicated to them if they were planning to send only one team.
"At no point did AITA suggest that we would be considered as anything but a team; in fact, their correspondence of March 2012 states that 'we have great possibility of having two doubles teams in the Olympic main draw'. If the objective, as proved by later events, was to send only one team, why was this not communicated to us," the Bhupathi-Bopanna duo said.