The Olympic motto may be faster, higher, stronger but the Games are as much about bringing people together as they are about breaking records. Some of the best moments from previous Olympics have been watching competitors from some of the more unheralded countries giving their all, no matter how far off the pace they might be.
Making the team in the first place is a big enough effort and something those who are successful feel rightly proud of. But it seems that tennis, at least for some nations, is proving to be more of a bone of contention than a golden quest.
In basic terms, players ranked in the world’s top 56 on June 11 qualify to be selected by their national associations for this summer’s Games, to be played at Wimbledon. Providing they are also in good standing – i.e. they have been available for at least two Fed Cup or Davis Cup ties in the past two years – players inside that mark could be expected to go to the Games, with the proviso that no country can have more than four singles players and six players in total.
That seems simple enough. But for some nations, simplicity is over-rated, it seems, because they have added various criteria which also have to be met before they will be assured of a nomination. Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson took to Twitter yesterday to vent her frustration. “There are countries who are proud of their athletes that qualify for the Olympics. Wish I was from one of them. I am not. Been fighting so hard to get this spot in the Olympics and now it’s been taken away from me, by my own country.”
As the world’s No 48 and the top-ranked Swede, Arvidsson should have been on her way to London but instead, Sweden insist that athletes in all sports should only be selected if they are “capable of a top-8 finish”. Now that might work in canoeing, or perhaps in archery, but in a truly global sport like tennis, where being in the world’s top 10 is a monumental effort.
They are not the only ones. Belgium insists its players have reached at least the fourth round of a grand slam event or the quarter-finals of a Masters 1000. David Goffin, now ranked 64 and on the cusp of a direct entry, reached round four in Paris so could sneak in. New Zealand wants its selections to be “capable of” a top-16 finish. Germany is even more strict. The German Olympic Association (DOSB) wants its players to be ranked inside the world’s top 24 and they must have reached at least one grand slam quarter-final or the semi-finals of a Masters 1000.
The Tennis Space is compiling a list of all the associations who have added extra criteria, but the other thing to remember is that in the end, it is up to the national associations to select the players they would like (as long as they meet the top-56 criteria). That opens up the possibility for all sorts of shenanigans and India’s Olympic Committee seems to be where it’s all kicking off. As a top 10 player, Leander Paes can theoretically choose his partner, but India also has a regular pairing – Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna – who also fit the criteria.
However, India are insisting that Paes and Bhupathi – who have played together at the Olympics three times before – join forces again, leaving Bopanna out in the cold. Paes and Bhupathi have not even spoken since November and their notoriously up and down relationship does not bode well should they be forced together. On Friday, Bhupathi and Bopanna released a statement, begging the selection committee to see sense and pair them together and Bhupathi has made it known that if the country goes with himself and Paes, he won’t go.
India could field two pairs if they wanted to, but won’t. It is an utter mess and more irritatingly, one that is totally avoidable. The final team announcements will be on June 28. Prepare for more surprises.