New Delhi: National tennis observer Somdev Devvarman has made it clear that he has nothing "personal" against Ankita Raina and his decision to exclude her from the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme was based on his assumption that she would not make it to the Tokyo Olympics in 2022.
In a surprise decision, Ankita was left out of the financial assistance scheme despite being India's top-ranked player. The sports ministry included second-highest ranked player Karman Kaur Thandi and Prarthana Thombare apart from seasoned Sania Mirza for Rs 50,000 monthly allowance.
Four male players were also selected for the stipend.
Realizing that a mistake has been made by leaving out Ankita, the AITA had later requested the sports ministry to include Ankita and Divij Sharan, who is the highest ranked Indian in doubles after Rohan Bopanna, in the TOP.
Somdev perhaps forgot that the monthly allowance, announced by the ministry, was not only for the Tokyo Games preparations but also for athletes who would compete in the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games this year.
"I have nothing personal against any player in the country, I constantly feel the responsibility of being extremely careful while recommending government funds to any player, as it is hard earned tax payers' money which we as an organization are obligated to spend wisely," Somdev told PTI when quizzed about his decision.
Somdev said Ankita has not shown progress on the Tour.
"That being said, my reasons for not recommending Ankita were extremely simple. If you study her ranking graph and results over the last few years you will surely notice that Ms Raina has not yet qualified for the qualifying of a single Grand Slam, let alone get a direct main draw acceptance."
"You obviously understand that well over 200 people participate at these events almost solely based on merit alone. So it is my contention that if you are consistently not one of the top 200 players in your sport, you are unlikely to have a special performance at the Olympics.
"Using this as a parameter I felt it was fairly safe to assume that she would be unlikely to qualify for the Olympics where roughly the top 50-60 players are selected to compete in singles," Somdev explained his rationale.
However, when reminded that monthly allowance was not restricted for just athletes who would go for Olympics but also for Asian Games, Somdev did not reply.
At the Asian Games, Ankita is likely to spearhead Indian challenge in the women's singles. During the recent Fed Cup, it was only Ankita who remained undefeated in all her singles matches as she toppled top-100 players such Lin Zhu and Yulia Putintseva while Karman appeared a 'work in progress' and Prarthana put up a below par show.
Somdev reasoned that Ankita has not qualified for any Grand Slam as yet but it holds true for Karman, who has potential, and Prarthana as well but they were still included.
Somdev said Ankita is not the only one who has missed out.
"Moreover, please don't ignore the efforts of many other players in both singles and doubles who have been excluded from the scheme despite having much better results and rankings than Ms Raina at the international level. This is not about individual players and their national rankings. This is about what's best for India," he said.
Despite Somdev's reservations, AITA went on to recommend names of Ankita and Divij Sharan for inclusion in the scheme.
Sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathjore had himself tweeted apart from issuing a press release that a stipend of Rs 50,000 per month be paid to the elite athletes preparing for Tokyo Olympic, Asian Games or Commonwealth Games to meet pocket expenses.
Initially, names of 152 elite athletes were included under TOP scheme and all of them were to be paid the stipend from September, 2017.
After her remarkable show at the Fed Cup, Ankita had said that she was surprised by her exclusion and has let her racket do all the talking.