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AITA to have final say on selection for Olympics

New Delhi: A persistent All India Tennis Association today scored a moral victory while Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were snubbed after the Sports Ministry left the selection of the men`s doubles pair for next month`s Olympics to AITA`s discretion. Requested by Bhupathi and Bopanna, who want to be sent to the London Games as a team, the Ministry decided against interfering in AITA`s selection process and asked the body to take a call keeping in mind the national interest.

The ministry`s stand, which delivered a big blow to Bhupathi and Bopanna, came after AITA dashed off a detailed reply which outlined the logic behind pairing the feuding duo of Leander Paes and Bhupathi despite the latter`s opposition. Ministry had sought an explanation from AITA after Bhupathi questioned the selection and asked why the AITA was insisting on sending just one team when India was entitled to two slots.

Bhupathi and Bopanna want AITA to choose another partner for Paes, who has gained direct individual entry to the London draw based on the basis of his top-10 ranking. AITA in its reply to the ministry 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, 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 Bopanna or Bhupathi." AITA presented five options to the ministry and asked it to help in deciding which one to follow but Sports Minister Ajay Maken refused to intervene in the selection crisis.

"The Sports Ministry does not wish to be part of selection process. We had raised certain issues because of requests from certain iconic players," Ajay Maken said in a statement. "The Sports Ministry leaves it to AITA to exercise any of the options in the best of national interest. Whatever needs to be done in the best of national interest, I have asked AITA to do and whenever it needs our help, we will do that and speak to players if they need to be spoken to. I hope that everyone works in national interest," Maken added.

AITA said it would again approach Bhupathi and Bopanna to pair with Paes, with first choice again being Bhupathi. "We have only three eminent doubles players and only two out of the three can go and therefore it was felt that the selection committee…we will go and talk to them once again and see what we need to do," newly-elected AITA President Anil Khanna told reporters after a meeting with Sports ministry officials.

"But the selection committee of the AITA has already decided that the No.1 player, which is Leander Paes should partner Mahesh Bhupathi who is India`s No. 3 right now. And in case Mahesh declines then Leander should partner with Bopanna," he added. Khanna also said the AITA wanted to take into consideration Paes` sentiments. "And it is also felt that sentiments of Leander Paes have to be kept in mind," said Khanna.

In AITA`s 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 deemed 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 — Paes pairs with either Yuki or Vishnu and Bhupathi teams up with Bopanna — but AITA mentioned they won`t 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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