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AITA replies to ministry, sticks to its selection stand

New Delhi: A defiant All India Tennis Association (AITA) today stood by its decision to pair Leander Paes with Mahesh Bhupathi for the London Olympics, insisting that teaming the former with a junior player would be "most inappropriate".

Responding to the Sports Ministry`s queries on the controversy that flared up after Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna both refused to partner Paes citing their commitment to each other, the AITA explained that the Bhupathi-Bopanna pair was never assured of an entry to the Olympics as a team by it. AITA said, "asking Leander to pair with a junior player would be the most inappropriate decision and will be deemed to be an insult to Leander Paes, who enjoys great respect in International Tennis Circuit."

Lashing out at both Bhupathi and Bopanna, AITA said, "it should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep the number one player out and publicly suggest in media that No.1 player should go to Olympics with No.5." AITA explained that if it lets Bhupathi and Bopanna pair, then Paes will be forced to play with either Yuki Bhambri (ranked 306) or Vishnu Vardhan (207) since the more experienced Somdev Devvarman is injured.

"It would be meaningless to send Leander with a junior player who has not played Grand Slam. Leander being the best player must be paired with either Rohan Bopanna or Mahesh Bhupathi." AITA said it was confident that the ministry will agree with the decision taken by it but still gave five options to consider on the matter. The AITA said the Ministry was free to get in touch with the players individually and take their views. The Ministry had intervened after Bhupathi and Bopanna wrote to Ajay Maken seeking his help in the matter.

AITA said as financiers of the players` training programme for the Olympics, the Ministry had every right to seek answers on the ongoing feud but it was not completely aware of the situation. "Since the Ministry reacted on the letter of Mahesh and Rohan, it is important that the Ministry should understand the correct facts so that it can understand that whatever decision AITA has taken is in the best interest of the nation," the AITA wrote.

"The selection committee resolved that sending Leander Paes with any other player will be a wasted opportunity," it added. The AITA, nonetheless, presented five options to the Ministry. The first is to stick to the original selection of Paes and Bhupathi as a team, which the AITA selection committee deems as "best". The second is to send Paes with Bopanna, which would "again mean that only one pair will go" and Bhupathi will miss out on Olympic participation.

The third option is to send two teams — Leander pairs with either Yuki or Vishnu and Bhupathi teams up with Bopanna — but AITA mentioned it won`t be necessarily be the "best" teams. The fourth option is to send only Bhupathi and Bopanna to Olympics and Paes decides to not participate. The fifth and final option is to pair Paes with a junior player and take disciplinary action against Bhupathi and Bopanna for refusing to abide by the decision of the AITA selection committee.

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