Will Commonwealth Games Make India A Sporting Power?
Herd mentality has gripped the Commonwealth Games. Just before the opening ceremony, for a section of the media, nothing was going right in a run up to the Games, come Sunday, October 3 and suddenly everything seemed to have changed.
Those who were dubbing the Game’s as Loot Games, changed their colours and hailed the Opening Ceremony as the best, the “World has ever seen” and even called it better than “Beijing Olympic ceremony”. Some even went to the ridiculous extent of describing it “by far the best ever ceremony”, like of which has not taken place in the past and most likely also not in the future.
Having covered six Olympic and equal number of Asian Games, I will most humbly submit that the Opening Ceremony in Delhi was good but to compare it with Beijing Olympiad or say it was better exposes one’s ignorance. It has been said that “Ignorance is not a bliss”. Those who say that it was best ever, either had no idea of the Game Ceremonies or were carried away by the patriotic emotions and those who say that like of it will not be held in future seem to be confident that there will never be such Games in Delhi.
It should be remembered that grand openings does not make the Games grand success. 2004 Olympic Games in Athens being latest example. Athens has emerged as a “sick” child of Europe and one of the reasons for this illness is traced to the Olympiad.
In 1974, Teheran hosted the Grandest Asian Games ever seen. The opening ceremony was by far the best at time compared even to the Olympics. It showcased the history of Iran and Pehelvi Dynasty but what happened after that, in less then four years King Reza Shah Pehelvi had to flee the country. What takes the cake here is the statements coming from Indian Olympic Association (IOA) officials that India will now bid for the Olympic (God forbid) Delhi and rest of the nation has gone through most harrowing time with a run up to the Games. India has been reduced to a big joke and every nation, big or small, including Australia and New Zealand have started patronising a country of over one billion people.
The organisers have started comparing these Games with the Olympics. But they fully well know that there is no comparison. Olympic is by far the biggest sporting extravaganza with billion of dollars riding on it. While Commonwealth Games are modest (and virtually a non-entity in America, Asia and rest of Euorpe) competitions.
However, the organisers have even trivialised these perhaps ‘expensive’ sporting extravaganza in the country, from the right earnest when Prince Charles and President Partibha Patil “opened ” and “began” the Games. Never before this, any international sporting event had this type of “coalition” opening but it did expose the clumsy handling of the situation by the clueless but profligate Organising Committee (OC) of the Games.
Usually the Queen (of England) as head of the Commonwealth declares the Games open but this time she decided to skip the event (citing tight and taxing schedule). Her decision to avoid the Games was surprising but not sudden. Everybody knew it about one year back, still the OC did nothing about it. It should have informed the Government that as per the agreement, which it had signed with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) in 2003, it was clearly mentioned in that the Games will be inaugurated by the Queen or (in her absence) her nominated representative.
At the last moment, when it was announced in London that Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) will be going to Delhi to inaugurate the Games, there was a panic in the OC and the foreign office. How come Prince Charles whose position is equivalent to the Vice President will inaugurate the Games in the presence of the President of India, was the question raised and heated debates followed on television channels.
Experts asserted that the Queen has no right to outsource the duty to open the Games. But suddenly the frayed tempered cooled when it was known that it is not a colonial conspiracy by the evil Western powers to rule India again, but a part of the charter (agreement) which OC had accepted seven years ago.
The opening ceremony had some lessons for the politicians. The most popular personality in the VIP enclosure was former President APJ Abdul Kalam. Whenever his name was mentioned or his photo came on the big screen, a massive applause from the jam-packed stadium went up. According to the sources, which were in the enclosure, there was subtle disquiets among other politicians while Kalam was feeling bit embarrassed. “The honest leader is loved” was the reaction of the crowd, when some reporters wanted to know why Kalam was singled out for such ovation.
Meanwhile the credibility of this whopping 70,000 crore, “Mega Event” was further eroded when the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) at the last minute decided to increase the number of sportspersons to the national squad, so that hosts have the largest contingent. It was a surprising decision because 3rd September was the last date for all the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to send the names of their sportspersons for these Games.
The IOA included more swimmers and athletes despite the fact that federations had already picked up a large number through relaxed qualifying standards thus further lowering the standard. The IOA logic was strange: If Australia could field a 52-member swimming squad, how can India have less number despite the fact that our swimmers had no chance against the Aussies or those from Canada, England or New Zealand.
According to Swimming Federation of India (SFI) secretary, Virendra Nanavati, “The IOA asked us to give exposure to maximum number of Indian swimmers. So the selection committee met again to pick 17 more. But we have given opportunity only to deserving candidates.”
The Athletic Federation of India (AFI) also added 13 more to their list. The IOA and OC it seems were more interested in the quantity rather than quality. With top sportspersons withdrawing from tennis, athletics, cycling, swimming, archery and couple of other events, the Games lost their sheen even before they began and add to that more induction of below par sportspersons had damning effect on the standard of the competitions.
The reason for some of the World’s top athletes from the Games was not the security or hygiene but was the timing of the event. Former Olympic 200 and 400 meters champion Michael Johnson slammed the Games saying: “Delhi Commonwealth Games were doomed from the start.”
According to the legend, “It was all down to the decision to stage the Games in October, outside the mainstream season for athletics, traditionally the event’s central attraction. This edition of the Commonwealth Games was doomed from the start. First, the timing was all wrong. Keep in mind the traditional season for athletics, which would be one of, if not the, premier sports of the Commonwealth Games, takes place from April to the end of August.”
“That’s if the athlete has not competed in the indoor season taking place in January and February. To finish the season in August and then go back into training or try to maintain peak competitive form is extremely difficult in preparation for an event that takes place more than one month after your last race. This is also taking place at a time when most track and field athletes are in their annual four to six-week break from training and this off-season could be one of the most important of all with the World Championships taking place next August,” Johnson added.
And he then rubbed salt to the wounds by saying: “The Commonwealth Games have struggled in past years to get the best athletes to take them seriously and that in athletics a ‘Commonwealth title’ barely registers any respect on a global scale.” This was nothing but a huge snub for those who were tom-tomming these Games as the biggest sporting event ever to happen to this part of the planet. Yes, OC Chairman Suresh Kalamadi is to be blamed for the mess but it will be grossly unfair to hold him solely responsible for the rampant corruption which marred country’s prestige. OC had budget of Rs 2394 crore, while thousands of crores were spent by the central and the Delhi government agencies in the name of building up the infrastructure.
The Union Development Ministry, through the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI), were directly in charge for the renovation of Nehru Stadium, the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium and the SP Mukherjee Swimming Complex. The Delhi government was responsible for works on roads, flyovers, parks, sub-ways, pavement of roads, kerbs and mayriad other works.
Connaught Place, the showpiece shopping complex of the capital, was unnecessarily dug up and the estimated cost for the renovation of this area has been estimated at staggering Rs 900 to 1000 crore. The Games budget shot through the roof, but people in charge of the games organisations and preparations were making most of it. For them it was more the merrier, while the common man and the taxpayer were left fuming at this open swindling of public money.
Union Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy told Parliament that around Rs 28,054 crore were being spent on the Games, which includes Rs 11,494 crore sanctioned by the central government, and the Rs 16,560 crore being spent by the Delhi government. The Delhi government also spent an additional Rs 670 crore for the “beautification of the capital”.
It was shocking that the renovation of the Nehru Stadium, with the addition of a weightlifting hall, reportedly cost a whopping Rs 961 crore. It’s nothing but a total plunder of public money. Compared to that, the construction of a brand new cricket at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground, the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) had reportedly spent Rs 65 crore.
Coming to the Games, in 2002 and 2006, India had finished 4th in these games but in same years, we had finished ninth in Asian Games. The Asian Games are to be held in China next month and there everything will be crystal clear and a better showing there will justify our claim as emerging sporting power.
By Harpal Singh Bedi