Somdev Devvarman is fighting for players’ rights. He is not alone and is backed by 10 top tennis players of the country. All he wants is that the All India Tennis Association (AITA) deals with their demands professionally and keeps them abreast of what is being done by it.
Tired of being dictated by the federation, the top players, led by Somdev, put forth a list of things that needed to be looked into so that they could give of their best while doing what they claim they want to do most — play for India.
Such is the trust deficit that players wanted written assurances from the AITA which they never got despite both sides slugging it out. The rally ended with a third-string team being chosen to represent India.
“If we had things in writing, if things were done professionally, 100 per cent we would have played. All the players would have made themselves available, if it was done in a professional way. But nothing was written to us by the selection committee,” Somdev says.
Though tennis players do not have a players’ association or representation in AITA like the Association of Tennis Professionals, yet they have taken a step that can revolutionise the way tennis is run in the country. “This will help future players,” is the logic. Maybe, a professional players' association, like the ones in English football or in Australia, where the professional cricketers’ association looks after their welfare, could have helped Somdev and Co.
In other sports
There have been instances when players have formed an association but none been recognised by the federation.
Take the case of the Football Players’ Association of India (FPAI) in India. Coming in touch with the Professional Footballers Association in England,
Bhutia, the mastermind of the project, thought such an association would benefit Indian football.
Though quite active, the AIFF does not recognise FPA. “I am not worried that the AIFF hasn't recognised us yet. This is a new concept in India and accepting it will take time.
The AIFF attends our programmes and hears our appeals and acts on them too. Even if they don’t recognise us, we know we have a voice and will be heard.”
Sometimes, it is not restricted to the federation alone, even convincing players is not easy. “It helped that I was the captain of the India team,” says Bhutia.
Another interesting development in the amateur arena is the archery players’ association, which was formed in July last. Though most amateurs believe that an association is not needed if money is not involved, the archers felt a lot could be done, especially for retired players.
The international archers association is recognised by FITA, the world body, but what irks Dola Banerjee, president of the association, is that recognition has not come along.
“He (Archery Association of India (AAI) secretary Anil Kamineni) said the AAI would not recognise our body. He did not give us a reason, despite assurances that the archers do not have ambitions in the AAI,” says Dola.
Even in cricket, where a lot of money is involved, players’ associations have not lasted long, cropping up as and when there was a crisis. In 1989, Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Ajay Sharma and Kiran More were banned from playing festival matches in the US, but the issue was resolved quickly.
In 2002, the Indian Cricket Players Association (ICPA) was formed with MAK Pataudi and Arun Lal as president and secretary. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly were the founding members. It too fizzled out after their endorsement issues were resolved.
As Arun Lal puts it, “It’s impossible to sustain a player’s body. It requires a statesman like attitude from the parent body, great maturity from
both sides. The relevance of having a players’ body too has gone down with the advent of the IPL. It’s based on the principle of free market and a player gets what he’s worth for. So, there’s a little chance of favouritism…”
Bishen Singh Bedi is curt. “Players here are willing to be ruled, they don’t have the conviction to assert themselves, there’s lack of unity amongst them. The bosses are wary of those who express their opinion, they are maybe insecure,” he says.
Finally, it is the players’ interests that must be foremost on the minds of administrators. For that, a players’ association definitely helps.
“There are a lot of sports in India where players don’t get a fair deal. What is happening in tennis now is a good example. In that case, a players’ body helps sort out issues better,” reasons Usha Nath Banerjee, former member of the Asia Legal Committee, FiFPro.
“All over the world such associations have emerged from the suffering of players. But, let’s get this straight, the purpose of a players’ body is to see that is benefits players. So long as that happens, how does it matter whether the players’ body is recognised or not by the parent body?”