The face-off between the national tennis federation and the eight players who have threatened to boycott the Davis Cup unless their demands are met has escalated to a hitherto unknown level with a press release.
All the eight have categorically stated that they are not available for the tie against South Korea unless their demands are accommodated.
The immediate provocation for the step has been the fact that with the tennis body officials going on record to state that this was primarily a Somdev Devvarman initiative, the others felt he was being targeted.
They rose in his defence to prove that he was actually being their spokesperson. Such unity is rare in Indian sport.
Then, given the experience of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in the run-up to the Olympic Games, players have become wary of the tennis officials. Despite the two stating emphatically long before the selectors met that they were only available as a team, the national body insisted on pairing them with Leander Paes. When the two refused, they were painted as villains in the media.
The rebellious lot don’t want the AITA to again announce a team without addressing any of their concerns and then label them anti-national when they refuse to play.
As such the emphatic statement in the release: “We wish to make it very clear that ALL of us are, regrettably, unavailable for Davis Cup selection unless the AITA is willing to consider and engage with us on our very legitimate suggestions in relation to the team.”
It appears that there is very little trust that the federation evokes; the players just don’t seem to have any faith that it won’t play games with them.
Meanwhile, the body is making frantic efforts to break the unity of the players.
However, this time around, there aren't any personal differences, like those between Paes and Bhupathi in the past, to exploit.
An attempt was made to create a rift in a mail sent to all the players that spoke about just how Devvarman had had an issue with Yuki Bhambri at his debut tie in South Africa. That bit disappeared when the two sat down and had a frank chat. Now, fresh chinks are being explored.
But shockingly enough, till now, the players are sticking together and that’s a scenario that the AITA mandarins have no experience of handling.
The moot issue here is that this rebellion — one may choose to call it that or not but that’s mere wordplay — is not about petty one-upmanship.
Instead, it stems from a genuine desire to bring about a difference in the functioning of a body that has for far too long relied on politics of divide and rule instead of focusing on genuinely creating a system that aids player development. This revolt is against administrators who have formed a cartel to cling on to power while the sport languishes.
This rare unity may well force the national body to introspect. That is, if it lasts.