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Jealous AITA looks to tame Apollo

sports Updated: Sep 28, 2008 22:33 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
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Money coming into junior development should spell joy for the administrators of any Olympic sport. Especially, when the majority of corporate India's interest seems to begin and end with cricket. That, apparently, is not the case with tennis.

In a move that has wide-ranging ramifications towards future interest of India Inc. in supporting initiatives in the sport, the All India Tennis Association has shot off a letter to Apollo Tyres asking the company to provide precise details of the money-spend with regard to its Rs100 crore Mission 2018. The Apollo Mission proposes to produce India's first Grand Slam singles champion within the next decade in sync with Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academies.

"We want to know just how much they are actually spending on developing players. The majority of the money seems to be going into print and TV ads, which give the wrong impression that they alone are working towards making champions," thunders AITA secretary Anil Khanna when asked about the motive for the correspondence. "Initially they announced that it would be 10 crore a year and as per the executive committee decision of August 31, we have asked them to give an audited statement of accounts that they have actually spent that amount till now." The Mission completed a year in May.

Bhupathi, when asked to comment, is first amused and then livid at the charges made by Khanna. "There is no ambiguity. There is 100 crore marked for development for ten years. The rest of the spend on marketing is in addition to that amount to build awareness about our Mission."

The query on just what difference does it make if Apollo spent 10 crore or less in a year elicits a strange bit of reasoning from Khanna: "They are discouraging our other stakeholders with their loud pronouncements. No corporate should try to take disproportionate credit. Can Apollo and Mahesh Bhupathi produce a player without the 350 odd tournaments that the AITA organizes in a year?"

Apollo is in no way obliged to provide the AITA any details of its finances. The body, however, does not intend to restrict its initiative to letter writing alone. Top functionaries told HT on condition of anonymity that the next move is already planned. "SEBI will be approached to deal with this if AITA is not convinced that they are spending 10 crore a year. We feel this is just a means of enhancing the company's brand image without actually spending the amount claimed. A listed company cannot mislead the public," said a key member of the federation.

In what is being perceived as a deliberate slight, the AITA letter has been addressed to Neeraj Kanwar joint managing director and COO of Apollo Tyres but has been written by Lt Col Ranbir Chauhan, AITA's development officer. The federation's own record of garnering corporate support largely revolves around getting money from government backed companies and it has failed to excite much attention from corporate India.