Bopanna, Rahane, Saha highlight ageist attitudes in pro sport | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Bopanna, Rahane, Saha highlight ageist attitudes in pro sport

By, New Delhi
Jan 29, 2024 09:11 PM IST

With modern advances in sports science, it is more than possible for an athlete to play at a very high level for a long time body and mind permitting

The world celebrated Rohan Bopanna's Australian Open title and ascension to the men's doubles World No.1 ranking with a fair degree of awe. To do it at 43 is no mean feat because you not only have to sometimes battle opponents half your age but also your body.

India's Rohan Bopanna (R) and Australia's Matthew Ebden celebrate after victory against Italy's Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori during their men's doubles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open.(AFP) PREMIUM
India's Rohan Bopanna (R) and Australia's Matthew Ebden celebrate after victory against Italy's Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori during their men's doubles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open.(AFP)

It isn't easy and Bopanna himself has multiple times thought of quitting tennis. His age has certainly been a factor in that line of thought. But as his doubles partner Matthew Ebden, who at 36 is no spring chicken himself, pointed out after winning the Grand Slam Down Under, age should never come into the argument.

“Guys say: ‘Oh he’s so old,’ ‘too old’ – what I’ve heard in the last year and half – seriously, like: ‘Alright guys, and?’” Edben said. “Watch how the guy plays tennis, what does age have to do with it?”

Bopanna said most young tennis players showed “mutual respect” on the circuit, but he feels older players have much to offer. “I think there’s a lot of wisdom to give back to the youngsters,” he said.

Ebden said there is age-based discrimination across society. “People older than us, we look at (and think) this or that, they shouldn’t get a job or they can’t do that, yada, yada,” he said. “Well, why not? We’re all people, we’re all whatever, and we celebrate all sorts of equality.”

'NEW AGE' CRICKET

Of course, the age argument extends way beyond tennis. For example, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had revealed after India's 2021-2 Test series against South Africa that India coach Rahul Dravid called him to his room and said that the team management has been "wanting to look at a new face as wicketkeeper."

Dravid, Saha said, had added, "if you want to take some other decision... you can do that."

The India coach had later added that Saha deserved honesty and clarity but the point to be noted was that Saha, 37 then, was still the best pure wicketkeeper in the country. In terms of keeping skills, he was ahead of the younger lot but he was asked to step aside because the team wanted to "look at a new face".

Now, is that fair?

As Ebden said, he's old, and?

As KS Bharat went about his glovework and his batting in the first Test against England, it wasn't hard to see that Saha would have been better. In an individual sport, like tennis for instance, Saha would have played on for as long as he wanted to; as long as the body and mind were willing. So, why is it different in a team sport... if the athlete is good enough, he is good enough.

Shouldn't the argument end there? Where and how does age come into the picture?

A similar argument was made by Rohit Sharma when he was asked whether Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara were considered for the first Test against England.

"Look, actually we did think about it (going back to a senior player). But all these younger players, when are they going to get their opportunity? That's something we thought, I thought as well," Rohit had said during his pre-match press conference.

But the point should be simple. Have the younger lot done enough to force their way into the team? Are they better? The younger players will get their opportunity when they convince others that they are the better option. Should older players be asked to simply step aside because someone younger is waiting in the pipeline? Would they have been better in South Africa or on a turner?

NFL star Tom Brady is standout but so is Roger Federer. George Foreman did the same in boxing. Golf legend Jack Nicklaus won three major titles after turning 40. TT legend Jan Ove Waldner played till he was 47 -- born in 1965, he won his last national title in 2010 and last club title in 2012. Footballer Francesco Totti retired at the age of 40 after playing 786 games for Serie A club Roma.

Dravid himself played at a very high level till he was 39. The Chennai Super Kings team has almost become a meme because of the older players in the team but it has also made them the most successful team in the league. Experience does matter.

With modern advances in sports science, it is more than possible for an athlete to play at a very high level for a long time, body and mind permitting. Age, as Bopanna and so many others have shown us, is sometimes just a number. Better to keep it that way.

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