Sports in India normally takes a backseat unless it concerns cricket, which is one area where the country dominates the competition. Even then, it is probably safe to say that there have been plenty of glorious moments in Indian sporting history but there have also been controversies and ugly feuds. Sport always has 2 sides to it – a beautiful and inspirational side and also an ugly and conroversial side. While a fight between two rivals can be taken in its context, to see them wash their dirty linen in public isn’t actually a pretty sight.
An ugly and public spat between India’s leading tennis players has grabbed headlines recently with Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna accusing Leander Paes of being a toxic person on social media.
In fact, social media has become a platform for sports personalities to take digs at each other while a huge audience look on. It all started with Paes’ accusations that the best team was not picked for the Rio Olympics (aimed at the pairing of Bopanna and Sania for the mixed doubles), prompting the reaction from Sania and Bopanna.
In the light of this feud, let’s take a look at some of the other ugly instances in Indian sports which has led to such fights between individuals and organisations.
5) OP Jaisha vs Athletics Federation of India (AFI)
OP Jaisha, hailing from Kerala, is one of India’s most successful long distance runners, having bagged medals for the country in 1500m, 3000m and 5000m events at various Asian championships, including the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
The 33-year-old recently switched over to the Marathon and promptly broke the national record – as a result of which she was a medal hope for India at Rio 2016. But she came up with a lacklustre effort that saw her finish 13 minutes later than her personal best and collapsed on the finishing line. But it was her revelations (or rather accusations) that caught the nation’s attention.
She said that the AFI did not provide water and refreshments to her during the race and she had to rely on water given by the Rio 2016 organisers, which was the prime cause of her poor finish. She said, “During my entire run, I was given water only four times, whereas I need to drink it at least 8-9 times for recovery.
The booths designated to India were empty. I had to depend on water from the Rio organisers, but they were there only every 8 kms.” In response AFI said, “We were told by the Rio organisers that they would be providing refreshments, hence we didn’t bother. Also, Jaisha’s coaches didn’t inform us about the specific refreshments, as per the rule you mentioned.”
When OP Jaisha denied the suggestion that she had refused refreshments, AFI stated – “Both Kavita and Jaisha denied any extra refreshments to be present. They also stated that they will use the refreshments provided by the organisers, if needed.” Though the incident brought shame upon the commitment levels of the Indian officials, the Sports Minister responded by just ordering a routine probe into the matter.
4) Jwala Gutta vs Pullela Gopichand
The frosty relationship between India’s national badminton coach and the leading women’s doubles player has been a long running saga, so much so that they no longer speak to each other publicly.
The 33-year-old, who trains under veteran coach SM Arif, minces no words when speaking about Gopichand and has always maintained that he shows partiality to players who train in his academy in Hyderabad. The frayed relationship between them hit a new low in 2014 when Gutta and her doubles partner Ashwini Ponnappa were ignored for the felicitation programme for the successful badminton contingent in the Commonwealth games. Incidentally, Jwala and Ashwini had won the silver in douibles.
Gutta seethed, “We were not even informed about it while he (Gopichand) is supposed to be our chief national coach. He is supposed to include all, and not just a few of his favourites. It was evident that we wouldn't be called there.
Things have become so bitter that perhaps, even if we were invited, we wouldn't have gone.” She then went on to correct Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao at a public function when he credited Gopichand for coaching Jwala and other shuttlers. She insisted credit for coaching her be given to SM Arif.
The feud hit a new low in 2015, when Gutta and Ponnappa (then World No.13 in Doubles) were ignored funding under the Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS) while World No.43 Guru Sai Dutt was included.
An incensed Gutta raged, “Ashwini and I have achieved so much in our career, but have never gotten our due and it is just because of one person - Gopichand. We are World No. 13 now, but instead of supporting us, he is only pulling us down.” She further said, “We are not included in the TOP Scheme! Why? Just because we are not from Gopi's academy? Is it fair that Gurusai Datt's name is in TOP Scheme? I think Gopichand should step downa s national coach.”
Gopichand responded by insisting that Gutta had no moral standing to ask for his resignation.
3) Milkha Singh refuses Arjuna Award
One of the most celebrated Indian athletes of all time, Milkha Singh saw red over the awarding of the prestigious Arjuna award in 2001 when he was nominated for lifetime achievements.
The Flying Sikh had won 4 Asian games gold medals, 1 Commonwealth games Gold, and was considered one of the best 400m runners in the world at one point in time. Finding himself clubbed together with athletes who achieved no-where near to what he had, Milkha refused to accept the award and targeted then Sports Minister Uma Bharti.
Milkha alleged that the politicians including Ms.Bharti had besmirched the reputation of the Arjuna award. He said at a press conference, “I have been clubbed with sportspersons who are nowhere near the level that I had achieved.
My sportspersons friends in India and abroad are all strongly concerned and they are justified because I had already been honoured with the Padma Shri immediately after my achievement in 1958.” He criticised the nomination criterias and hit out at the decision to Arjuna to people who had no claim to it.
He concluded by adding that he would make a good Union Minister for Sports and ensure such awards are presented with transparency.
2) Greg Chappell vs Sourav Ganguly
The appointment of former Australian captain Greg Chappell was one of the most controversial periods in Indian cricket. Though Chappell was hired following then captain Ganguly’s advice, it would soon come back to bite him. After a highly publicized, contentious spat between the two egoistic sportsmen, Ganguly was sacked as captain and subsequently dropped from the ODI team.
The fight between them escalated during India’s tour of Zimbabwe in 2007 when Chappell stated that if left to him, he would pick both Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif ahead of Ganguly for the 1st Test. An irked Ganguly went on to score a hundred against one of the worst bowling sides in the world and later accused the team management of trying to get him to resign as captain though he did not name individuals.
Few days later, Chappell read out a statement which said that the private discussion with Ganguly was "aimed at motivating Sourav for the Bulawayo Test match" and not intended to belittle him.
It triggered massive protests in Bengal and Ganguly was later recalled to the team following public outcry coupled with the loss in form of his replacements. But the feud between the two ran deep and flared up years after the sacking of Chappell as Indian coach with Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and even VVS Laxman siding with Ganguly in the matter.
1) Leander Paes vs Mahesh Bhupathi
Once known as ‘The Indian Express’ – Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi were a brilliant doubles team which was always counted among the favourites to win a Grand Slam duing their heyday. 3 Grand Slam doubles titles in 3 years stand testimony to the fact. But Indian tennis’ golden pair split after a bitter feud developed between Paes and Bhupathi which resurfaced often.
In fact, they first officially announced their split in 2006 after winning the Doha Asian Games gold in doubles. In fact Bhupathi announced their pairing as a tragedy while announcing the decision to split. He went on to accuse Paes of belittling him with remarks and said, “I am definitely not as flamboyant as Leander is with the media but am as passionate about playing for India.
The million-dollar question is the Olympics in 2008. Leander tells the media that he would love to play with me at the Olympics; five minutes later he mentions to an acquaintance that my career will be over in six months.”
In fact, Bhupathi, Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna had all asked for Paes to be removed as Captain in 2008 which was not heeded by the AITA.
Though the pair played together again in 2008 Olympics where they lost out in the quarterfinals, the rift between them was not to be bridged. It flared up again in 2012 when Sania Mirza said she would prefer to play with Bhupathi rather than Paes in the London Olympics but was forced to partner Paes after the AITA intervened. Meanwhile, Paes had to partner Vishnu Vardhan in the men’s doubles after both Bhupathi and Bopanna refused to play with him. Bhupathi would go on to accuse Paes of lying to him on several occassions.
They last played together for India in a Davis Cup tie against South Korea in 2016 but there were no signs of the relationship being mended. It was sad that things came to this between 2 of India’s greatest sportspersons.