A clash has erupted in Indian tennis after the shifting of the November 29-30 Davis Cup tie against Pakistan out of Islamabad. Mahesh Bhupathi, Indian tennis team’s non-playing captain, had made himself unavailable for the tie scheduled in Pakistan citing security concerns, and the All India Tennis Association (AITA) chose former Davis Cupper Rohit Rajpal to lead.
But, with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) deciding to shift the tie out of Pakistan, and Rajpal being named as the new skipper, Bhupathi feels miffed at what turned out to be a “sacking”. Bhupathi said he does not mind being fired as the captain but refused to accept the Indian tennis association’s allegation that he refused national duty. The multiple Grand Slam doubles champion insisted he never made himself unavailable for the Pakistan tie.
“I am not going to sit back after winning 12 Grand Slams and playing for the country for 25 years to allow someone to say I am fired because I did not show up for national duty,” Bhupathi told PTI.
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“I don’t mind being fired. They can say it’s time for a new captain. But nobody can say that I refused national duty. I genuinely thought it was unsafe to travel to Pakistan which the ITF has validated. So, if they are going to penalise me and players for this, it’s not going to work.”
Bhupathi, whose tenure as captain began in Bengaluru in April 2017 during the tie against Uzbekistan, alleged the AITA did not show the courtesy to inform him that he won’t continue as captain. This has been refuted by AITA secretary general Hironmoy Chatterjee.
“I need some form of communication from AITA that I am not the captain anymore,” said Bhupathi. I have not heard anything from them except that since Rohit is fine to travel to Islamabad and I am not, they will take him for this tie. And this was hours before the neutral venue was announced.”
Chatterjee countered: “I personally called him on the evening of November 4 to inform that we have opted for a new captain.”
Bhupathi, however, insisted that the communication to him was that Rajpal was being appointed just for the tie in Islamabad as he was unavailable and it was never conveyed that he was being removed for good.
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“I have personally been involved with the sport at a macro level in India. Be it the Mittal Champions Trust or JSW’s IIS. I have raised money for Karman Kaur (Thandi), Sumit (Nagal). If these guys (AITA) don’t want me, I can disconnect but don’t tell the country that I did not show up for national duty. That’s unacceptable,” said Bhupathi.
“The easiest way to fire me was when we lost to Italy (in February this year). They could have said I did not take the team to World Group so they are firing me. Why have they fired me just before the ITF meeting? There is no logic.”
“I am not worried about getting fired. If I am not the right man for the job, so be it. But don’t take my name through the mud because I worked my whole life to get my name in tennis. I did not say I am unavailable, I said no one is comfortable going to Pakistan.”
In five ties under Bhupathi, India won against Uzbekistan (April 2017) and China (April 2018).
During his tenure, India twice reached the World Group Play-offs but lost to Canada (September 2017) and Serbia (September 2018) in tough away ties.
Pakistan to Appeal
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) has decided to appeal against ITF’s decision to shift their tie to a neutral venue.
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“We had a meeting today on this decision and we have decided to send our appeal to ITF tomorrow (Thursday). It’s unfortunate. But life goes on. We are appealing against it and it’s our right. We are asking ITF to rethink the decision and allow the tie in Islamabad,” PTF president Salim Saifullah said.
“There is no terrorism, no war and no natural disaster. I don’t know why the Indians are worried. Thousands of Indians are coming to Pakistan everyday. Only the tennis players did not want to come. It (the tie) has become a joke. Both ITF and Indian federation have lowered their stature,” Saifullah said.
(With inputs from PTI)
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