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Denial of wildcard for Kyra Shroff smacks of injustice

Its very easy to take up arms and rally around in a mob mentality against the establishment. Doubly so against sports establishments because there's a lot more room for subjectivity here. Every player, and by extension their well wishers, believe deep ...

Image source: http://www.themetrognome.in

It’s very easy to take up arms and rally around in a mob mentality against the establishment. Doubly so against sports establishments because there’s a lot more room for subjectivity here. Every player, and by extension their well wishers, believe deep down that either they are the best in the business or that they will be with enough practice. Not every player can be afforded equal treatment though. There will always be players who feel that they aren’t getting what is due to them in terms of opportunities and facilities.

It’s very easy to go against the associations and berate them for overlooking a player; no matter which player is given the opportunity, someone will always be left out. Over time, however, patterns begin to emerge, as in the case of Kyra Shroff, and you can’t help but wonder if she is being denied a fair due. Kyra, despite being ranked 2nd in India after Sania Mirza, did not get a wild card from AITA to enter the WTA Challenger Series tournament in Pune.

The Women’s Tennis Association has started a new format, WTA Challenger Series, for the benefit of the emerging markets who can’t currently afford to host a full fledged WTA Premier or International event with all the bells and whistles. A WTA Challenger series was scheduled to happen in Pune starting today. I say was scheduled; it was almost a ‘was’ and not an ‘is’ because we couldn’t afford to host the Challenger series at this time in Pune, but sponsors stepped in at the last minute in the form of the Lakshya Group, making the event possible.

All the organizers have invested around Rs. 1.5 crore for this event. The state government spent Rs. 40 lakh to re-surface the tennis courts, which have been largely unused since the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.

The winner will get USD 25000 and 160 WTA ranking points. This is the first WTA event in India since 2008. Being a Challenger series, the top 50 players cannot participate in it, allowing for lower ranked players to get a better shot at even competition.

The point being that an event like this is pretty rare in India and very helpful to our budding talent to participate in.

The AITA had four wild card entries to give out to players of its choice. It was announced that two entries would go to the winner and runner-up of the nationals and two others would be given in consideration of the sponsors. Kyra Shroff, ranked 2nd in India, did not get wild card entry in this tournament. Here’s a look at the disparity of rankings between Kyra and the other initial wild card considerations for this tournament:

Kyra Shroff – WTA rank 524, AITA rank 2
Rishika Sunkara – WTA rank 581, AITA rank 4
Prerna Bhambri – WTA rank 671. AITA rank 5
Rutaja Bhosle – WTA rank 704, AITA rank 7

‘Wild card’ by definition is arbitrary and is influenced by different factors in different cases. In this case, two wild card entries were being awarded keeping in mind the interest of the sponsors. The question is, shouldn’t the second best player in India be given at least one?

For the budding talent in India, getting to participate in this is a very big deal. They have a great opportunity to make a jump in their rankings even if they win one round.

The AITA gave out wild card entries to Prerna Bhambri, nationals winner (rank 5), nationals runner-up Rishika Sunkara (Rank 4), junior national champion Prarthana Thombare and Andrea Petkovic. The rankings are as on 12 October. That would lead you to believe that nationals winners are given preference when it comes to giving wild card entries. But when Kyra won the nationals three years ago, she wasn’t given a wild card entry as she wasn’t ranked in the top three in India. A player’s AITA rank ought to be a better measure of form than the nationals, since the rankings are decided by more than one competition.

Kyra Shroff has won 12 singles and 15 doubles AITA national-level tournaments. She has won the Nationals U-10 karate championships as well. I mention that not to show the possibility of a roundhouse kick to the opponent in event of foul play, but because multi-sport athletes tend to have better potential.

At the last moment, Kyra was offered a wild card draw in the qualifiers, which the Shroffs did not take up: “I refused politely because she was being offered a wild card into the qualifying rounds; Kyra based on her ranking of 524 would have managed to get into the qualifiers without a wildcard or any favors. We wanted based on her ranking a wild card into the main draw, which was denied in spite of being No. 2 in the country” said Firdaus Shroff, her father and manager.

Having a wild card in the main draw would have given Kyra a shot to improve her rank by going up against relatively even competition. Getting a wild card in the qualifiers and getting one in the main draw are very different things.

Speaking to Firdaus Shroff, I’ve put together some instances which, when taken together, makes one stop, stare and question whether this young prodigy is being given her fair due.

Maybe AITA is sticking by the current selection because they had made an announcement and can’t back off?

“If the prior announcement of the wild card was such a point to stick by on part of the AITA, my question would be that in March 2012, AITA also announced the 4 probables for the London Olympic. Kyra based on her ranking was again the front runner. Why then was a person who was not part of the announced 4 chosen?”

Ok maybe the selections happen based on the training camp performance?

Should Isha Lakhani been given preference over Kyra? (image credit: suhridsports.blogspot.com)

“In 2010 for the Commonwealth games, Kyra was in the probables and she went for the training camp but no one from the camp was selected. Instead, a 29-year-old player Nurupama was selected.

“For the Fed cup, Kyra went for the camp to Delhi in Nov 2011, she beat all the other girls at the camp which was up for selection, but still Isha Lakhani was brought out of retirement to play.”

I see a pattern emerging. Firdaus added, “Also a very blatant disregard for players is that when the Olympic camp was held, the kids were made to train on hard courts when the Olympics was to be played at Wimbledon on grass. There was a Swedish coach employed by AITA to train the kids. When Kyra arrived for the camp in Delhi, she was the only one there. She was given, in the heat of May, a time slot of 12 pm to 2 pm to train in. Also the coach was using the prime time of mornings and evenings to train kids. Should the Olympic camp not have been given preference?”

When she won the nationals two years ago, she missed out on getting Rs 5 lakh that was due to her as the winner. Apparently she had to apply for it, it wasn’t handed out with the prizes at the podium. “When Kyra won the women’s nationals in 2011, we were unaware that the winner was eligible to get Rs 5 lakh. It should be the responsibility of the AITA to guide players and their parents as to what they can get and what is possible to get. Not leave it to us to fend for ourselves. At present Col Chauhan of AITA is helping me with the ministry of sport to get something under the TSS scheme. Lets hope it happens. I have sent two applications under TSS and 1 under NSDF , and they have not borne any fruit till now” Firdaus continued.

They say that ignorance of law is no defense in the court of law. But in most cases, the book of law is freely available online in different forms. The book of Getting Your Due As The Winner Of The Nationals is more elusive. Kyra missed out on the Rs 5 lakh prize due to her as the winner of the nationals because she wasn’t informed about it.

Firdaus said “Kyra is a diabetic, takes 4 shots of insulin daily. AITA knows this, still a proper diet was not provided for her. She had to go out to eat during the camp; is this the way our athletes are looked after?” Sadly yes. A similar plight was faced by our Paralympic team, but that problem got a hint of a resolution through a petition which was floated around on Change.org. This, however, seems to be more of an isolated case.

Having a good number of Challenger events is one of the major reasons why Europeans are dominating the tennis rankings. This is the first time India is hosting a WTA event since 2008. Having Kyra Shroff, the 2nd ranked player in India, participate in it would have helped her climb the rankings, get exposure and prove her mettle to the world. Instead, there is a lot of wild speculation about the wild card and the reason she has been left out.

Firdaus bemoans this very fact when he says, “When will the youth get their due or selection based on merit be done? When will Indian sports administrators learn that lives are at stake, we are struggling day and night to get our kids to a level, to represent their country, hold the flag up with pride, but all we have got till date is rejection and exclusion.”

Murky waters here. Is jungle se hume bachao.

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