“What has been your vision for tennis in last 30 years,” Somdev Devvarman asked the All India Tennis Association after pulling out of the planned Centre of Excellence in New Delhi due to a drastic budget cut.
The former India player was supposed to head the Centre of Excellence. The Sports Ministry and AITA had agreed to invest Rs 20 crore to establish the Centre, on the lines of the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad, but eventually the budget was brought down to Rs 10 crore.
“We had made plans based on a budget that was agreed upon. We built the plan around that and if it does not follow through, then it’s impossible,” Somdev told PTI.
“Tennis is a very international sport and to get best international expertise, you need to pay international rates.”
Somdev insisted that his own remuneration was not the bone of contention. “I was never doing it for salary and never got paid for it (devising a plan)...it was a passion project. Honestly, I have no hard feelings but I want to see an alternative which is better and it works,” he said.
Somdev said tough questions need to be asked of AITA since funding was not the only issue in derailment of the plan but did not get into the specifics. “The project is secondary, I want to ask what is your vision for Indian tennis or your vision for sport in general and how will you accomplish it.
“Leave the government aside, they are not tennis experts. Do you think you have done a good job? I am not asking this question because I want to attack anyone. Sometimes I am badly mistaken for being unfriendly with the AITA. It does not bother me. I am not attacking but just asking straight-forward questions,” he asserted.
When asked to spell out the issues on which he and AITA differed, Somdev pointed out the support the players were receiving. “May be the Federation thinks, it is very simple, I think it’s not. If you think it is simple why have you not done it for 30 years? Why am I required to make this happen? You needed my expertise, you did not use it, it’s okay it’s a business call but I am not fine with nothing happening as a former player,” he said.
“I disagreed with the players funding. The top players were least concerns for me, the players should have a system supporting them. It was having a group of coaches helping out U-14, 16, 18,” he said. “Like, Jack Sock worked with 3-4 different coaches from USTA. They were not funding Jack personally but they were funding a system which helped Jack and everybody from juniors. That’s what I wanted to do,” he added.
Somdev insisted that money alone does not produce players and cited the example of Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who he thinks is getting success only in the last two years despite having the resources to sustain. “You can never see success in one, two years. You look at an 18 year old and you pick a kid who is 12. You support the 12-year old for 5-6 years and you will see that he will become much better than what that 18-year-old is now,” he said.
On a lighter note, Somdev said he never thought life after retirement “would be like this at 33”. “I run a charity and have two startups on development of sport at grassroots level. I am getting married in the next two months...right now I have my hands full with media commitments as well,” he laughed.