Sports Ministry addresses sports grants inquiry from top tennis playersManali Kulkarni
On September 11, 2014, many of India’s top tennis players opted out of the Asian Games in Incheon to participate in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)1 and Women's Tennis Association (WTA)2 Tours for their rankings in international tennis and some to defend titles. 3
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (“Sports Ministry”)4 and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)5, not made aware of this development by the All India Tennis Association (AITA)6 until it was finalized,were shocked to hear that players, like Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna, and Sania Mirza, had decided not to participate in the Asian Games.7
However, after substantial accomplishments on the ATP and WTA tours, the top players have been inquiring about their sports grants made available by the Sports Ministry8 through the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF)9, introduced in 1998 to further the development of, and provide support for national and international tournaments, which states:
“The funds available under NSDF are mainly used towards supplementing government assistance to the elite sportspersons who are medal prospects at major international events, for meeting their specific coaching/training requirements by way of provision of scientific support and training within the country and abroad, purchase of equipment, participation in international competitions etc.”10
The NSDF is structured for individual athletes, granting monetary budgets on a case by case that is determined annually. However, though the NSDF does not explicitly state that players must represent India and is not limited to certain tournaments, such as the Olympic Games or related tournaments, it importantly emphasizes that the NSDF is applied to “medal prospects at major international events."
As of October 29, 2014, AITA released a statement in favor of the players. The AITA Secretary General, Bharat Oza, explained that if the players had competed in the Asian Games, their level of play would have probably won many medals, which would have qualified them for multiple Central Government awards. With this background, Oza continued that the players arguably lost money by withdrawing from the Asian Games, and choosing to compete in the ATP and WTA tours.11
Shortly after, by October 30, 2014, the Sports Ministry clarified that players will have to be willing to play for India “when called upon without reservations” in order to be eligible and receive government grants. 12
The players are arguing that their commitment to their country can not be questioned as they played well and were able to improve their international rankings on the international tours while representing India. However, the Ministry continued with the same reasoning and argued that by withdrawing from the Asian Games, the players were choosing their prize money over representing their country.13
It should be noted that a similar incident occurred in July 2013, when tennis player, Somdev Devvarman, argued against the AITA over a “charter of demands”, which resulted in the Indian team not participating in the Davis Cup. The Sports Ministry had addressed this matter with the same words as used in the current incident, that players should play for India when selected, rather than choosing to play other tournaments for the prize money.14
As it currently stands, the players disagree with the Sports Ministry’s decision to not make the NSDF grants available, though the Sports Ministry do not appear to changing the position on the issue. At this moment in time there have not been any further statements regarding how the Sports Ministry will proceed, or if the players will take any legal action against the Sports Ministry.
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- Tags: All India Tennis Association (AITA) | Asian Games | Association of Tennis Professionals | ATP | Governance | India | National Sports Development Funds (NSDF) | Regulation | Tennis | Womens Tennis Association (WTA)
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About the Author
Manali is the COO at LawInSport and executive contributor of the editorial board for LawInSport. She holds an LLM in Sports Law from Nottingham Law School (Nottingham Trent University).