Indian tennis is in the news for the wrong reasons. This saddens me greatly. While we should be focused on tournaments and players, we are caught up in a vortex of one-upmanship between players and administrators, and the inter-administrator tussle.
Sports bodies generally are perhaps the biggest closed shops in India. It would be much easier to break into political office than it would be to become a significant functionary of a major sports body in India. Take the AITA; it is constituted of 22 state associations and one trust. The antecedent of this trust is a big mystery.
Each state association is constituted of district associations and clubs. If you look at the office bearers of the various state associations, it will be obvious that most of them have been in control of the same people for many years. There has hardly been any churn in the makeup of these functionaries. This also reflects in the AITA. A small group of people has constantly held all executive positions and membership of the executive committee for years and years. There has hardly been any fresh blood infused in any key position of the AITA.
Why is AITA losing money?
For a former tennis player to break through this system is practically impossible. The AITA makes a financial loss every year. This despite the fact that the stadium in Delhi has been built through government funds and collects rent from reputable organisations. The rent surprisingly doesn't accrue to the AITA.
We produce good juniors, but our best 16-year-olds don't become the best 21-year-olds in the world. We lose them in this transition. We need a programme to back 25 boys and girls between ages 16 to 19. We need to support them in training, travel and playing tournaments, with a coach and trainer accompanying them.
Hold better tournaments
We need about Rs 25 lakh per player per year and more $25K to $50K tournaments. An Indian player must gain enough points to attain a ranking of around 250 in the world just by playing tournaments in India. The AITA needs a combination of former players and marketing professionals who can raise money for tournament organisers.
Then, I want to ask if there is a process being followed to produce players. Yes, there are numerous junior tournaments. but we need more Challengers. We have a socialistic mindset where we keep trumpeting the fact that so many juniors play tournaments. But, there is no focus on quality. What is the AITA doing to support the best 16-year-olds? Are they being mentored to become world-class professionals by the age of 21?
We have squandered away the Rohit Rajpals, Asif Ismails, Gaurav Natekars, Rohit Reddys and Sunil Kumars. Hope the same fate doesn't befall the Mohit Mayurs, Ramkumar Ramanathans, Arjun Kadhes and Sumit Nagals.
The need of the hour is accountable leadership — a leadership, which will lay out its vision clearly, work towards it and quit if it does not meet the stated goals. To have four players in the top 150 of the singles within the next four years is achievable. This will give us a solid Davis Cup team. We cannot afford to go into ties with two doubles specialists. The resources required for this
goal are not Himalayan. An accountable leadership will have the credibility to raise it privately.
The writer is vice-president AITA & Tamil Nadu Tennis Association and chairman, Aircel Chennai Open Organising Committee