Every time a controversy erupts in Indian tennis, a Khanna has to be at the centre of it. Strictly speaking, today no Khanna officially has a position in the All India Tennis Association (AITA) — yet Anil Khanna is everything. Without his nod nothing can happen in the country’s apex tennis body.
Anil’s father, the late Raj Kumar Khanna — also AITA Secretary General and President, revelled in triggering and resolving controversies and would say he had to be stern with both his colleagues in the association as well as players in the “interest of Indian tennis”.
Be it in sacking non-playing captains, national selectors or even players at the first hint of rebellion, he did not waste much time in persuasive methods.
He never displeased his political masters, got along well with every national leader of some consequence. He received Padma awards for his contribution to Indian tennis, though he claimed he got them for his stature as an internationally known chartered accountant.
If the senior Khanna was happy managing Indian tennis, his son is more ambitious, moving with the times. He first cultivated the men who matter in Asian tennis to become the continental body’s chief before setting his sights on the big prize. He narrowly missed out being the president of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) — polling 192 votes to the 200 polled by winner David Haggerty of the US.
Anil took up the Asian cause saying the continent badly needs a Grand Slam to promote its players as right now the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) circuit is highly skewed in favour of the top 100 players. He got the next best position in ITF as its vice-president.
Now his hands are supposed to be full as head of ITF’s development wing and he has the administrative power to get India grants to develop its tennis. Like his father, he also says he only wants to “help Indian tennis” and has no personal axe to grind.
Thus the Khannas have been serving Indian tennis for over five decades barring a brief break.
After ITF, he had a fight on his hands with the Union Sports Ministry on the Sports Code which has laid down tenure and age limits for sports officials. Having served as Secretary General for two four-year terms, he was elected President for the 2012-16 term.
Like a good hermit, he vowed to quit as AITA President stating he would be too busy with the ITF work! In the same breath, he had also said that he would fight the code tooth and nail, taking recourse to legal route when the government threatened to derecognise AITA.
A year on, AITA has no president! The association, in the first week of this month, passed a unanimous resolution re-electing him as President for another term, but Anil Khanna prevailed upon his cabal to wait for a word from the government or the court before reoccupying his chair. At the same time, he also said he was not keen on returning as President.
Anil has now become the third Life President of AITA. No sports body, except the Indian cricket board, has a better politically correct set-up than the present AITA. It has a Congress life president, another from BJP and Anil himself as a career sports administrator. Khannas have always been gracious in victory!
A mere Life President may not mean much unless he is seen to be hands-on. So at the recent election, no President was elected, though there were rumours that outgoing Secretary General Bharat Oza was Anil’s choice.
If RK was brusque yet forthright, Anil is suave and crafty in dealing with issues. Four years ago, he settled the London Olympics entries making every contending competitor feel happy — at least superficially — and this time for the Rio Games the three top stars of Indian tennis tried to have their way. He made it appear as if he was conceding each one’s wish, knowing fully well that was not the ideal solution for a vexed problem.
Anil is back again at the centre of a pointless controversy regarding possible Olympic medal for Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna, who lost the bronze medal match, after the release of confidential athlete records underscoring the use of prohibited substances by the Williams sisters Venus and Serena with the sisters appearing to have got a Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) clearance for it.
Hironmoy Chatterjee, the new Secretary General of AITA, wittingly or unwittingly disclosed that Sania’s mother inquired about the course of action in case the sisters are found guilty and the issue has blown up into a major controversy with AITA’s flip-flops and a livid Sania Mirza going on Twitter to flay all those freely expressing their opinions without getting facts. Sania and Rohan had lost their semi-final match to Venus and her American partner Rajeev Ram and then the bronze medal match.
The AITA Secretary General sought to differentiate between a vocal query and a written submission. What is not clear is whether it was a simple query as to what the revelation means to India or a request to seriously pursue the matter. All he would say is that Anil Khanna was contacted by Sania’s mother.
Once ITF confirmed that the TUEs were authentic documents, there was little to pursue unless someone finds a loophole in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines.
Yes, the issue certainly made news, but is AITA to be blamed for it? Not so sure going by the facts.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)