The past week saw some dramatic developments in Indian sports, not the least the anti-Pakistan sentiment that led to the ejection of players from that country participating in the ongoing Hockey India League. Add to this melting pot the row in tennis with a disgraceful stand-off between the country’s top players and the AITA with the former "boycotting" next month’s Davis Cup tie.
In the process, the Indian cricket team’s so-called rejuvenation by way of winning the second ODI against England to square the series after a string of defeats looked like a non-event while the beheading of an Indian soldier and exchanges on the border putting pursuit of sport in perspective.
We can endlessly talk about the need to keep politics out of sport, but the reality is such that it would be naive to keep harping on this point. Hockey India acted decisively and fast by sending back the Pakistani players who were scheduled to represent various franchise teams in the League. The action helped to restore some sanity as the league can now continue in a safer environment.
Given the fickleness of Indo-Pak political relations and the escalating tension along the border, we can forget any bilateral sporting events between the countries. In fact, it was a miracle that an Indo-Pak T20 series was played at all while the uproar over Miandad's visa and his subsequent decision to cancel his trip for the last game in Delhi only underlined the fact that sport and politics are far too intertwined to be separated.
After all, sport is a trivial human pursuit in the big picture of life and if anyone believes that political normalcy between two countries can be restored through sporting exchanges, then such people are far removed from reality. In fact, human history is replete with leaders cleverly using sport as a means to a political end.
The Olympics, for instance, is as good an example as any to demonstrate this point. Hitler in 1936 and later, the Americans, the Russians and even the African nations shamelessly leveraged the Olympic Games to drive home a political point while the Palestinians went a step further by killing Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Games.
At the other end of the scale we are witnessing a different type of politics indulged in by our tennis players and the federation (AITA) in a game of one-upmanship. Last year, we saw three adult and mature players like Paes, Bhupathi and Bopanna washing dirty linen in public ahead of the Olympics. If we thought all that was behind us, then the next round of tennis politics is currently on.
Not surprisingly, both the players and AITA have been projecting themselves as saints while the fact is that both parties are equally to be blamed for the current impasse. It is all fine for the players to take a "united stand" and fight ostensibly for the "improvement of Indian tennis", but refusing to make themselves available for a crucial Davis Cup tie, in my mind, is a sin. After all, there cannot be a greater or higher calling than to represent one’s country and to scorn at the opportunity is unforgivable.
As for the AITA, the officials cannot claim innocence or being victimized. In the past, when the Amritraj brothers and Krishnan were at their peak, shortcomings if any were glossed over. After all, the trio took India to Davis Cup final, not once, but twice. Prior to that, India, well served by Krishnan (Sr), Mukherjea and Lal made it to the Challenge Round in 1966. Though there were occasional murmurs against the AITA bosses, the discord never surfaced.
Cut to the present and AITA's slip is showing. The players have a valid demand in seeking a coach and support staff they would be comfortable with, but our tennis bosses think differently. By nominating former Davis Cupper Zeeshan as the new coach, AITA has only stirred the hornet’s nest a bit more. AITA's point that the players cannot be selectors, hardly addresses the issue when the cause would have been better served by acceding to their wishes.
The players' demand for business class tickets to just four players is rather selfish and ignores the fact that there are other team members travelling with them. In a team event such as the Davis Cup, segregation of any kind only vitiates the atmosphere.
Now that the players have decided to escalate the issue to the Sports Ministry, the sordid episode only gets messier. It is about time that the AITA and the players sit across a table and resolve matters like mature adults rather than throwing mud at each other through the media. It reflects rather poorly on both players and the AITA.