The Cursed Games The country could have done without them
Two events which will have a considerable impact on the Indian sports and Commonwealth Games took place in the morning of August 7. Legendary fullback and Olympian Pargat Singh (45) lost to Ms Vidya Stokes (83) in the election for the post of Hockey India president while Commonwealth Games Organising committee (OC) treasurer Anil Khanna resigned after news appeared in the media that his son’s got lucrative Commonwealth Games contract.
In any other country a sportsperson of Pargat’s stature would have been elected unopposed but he had to suffer a defeat at the hands of octogenarian Stokes. Stokes, who is the interim HI president, won the straight contest by a big margin of 41-21. She contested the elections after defying government’s age limitation guidelines. The defeat of Pargat has once again exposed the rot in the sports administration of the country with non-sportspersons having a field-day while the genuine sportspersons suffer.
Anil Khanna’s resignation came as a surprise. He was appointed at this crucial post by Suresh Kalmadi after AK Mattoo resigned following the hockey fiasco before the World Cup when the players revolted demanding more match fee. At that time Mattoo was also the president of the HI. Anil Khanna’s resignation is bound to put more pressure on beleaguered Commonwealth Games OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi.
According to sources, Khanna now wants Kalmadi to go out of the CWG Organising Committee. As this was not enough, national soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia also slammed the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), saying the raging controversies over the Commonwealth Games were not in the best interest of the country. He even questioned the holding of the Games, “I would say the bidding of Commonwealth Games was wrong as we (Indians) are not prepared enough to host such a big event now.”
As the scandales and controversies kept on tumbling out, the 19th edition of the much hyped multi-million Commonwealth Games slated to be held here from October 3 to 14 are fast turning out to be the “Curse Games”—for the Organisers, Government and the common person. “It is a billion-dollar scam, every thing is mired in corruption,” said young journalist Pradeep Bagchi “It is total confusion and chaos out there”
“I feel like crying, to give vent to my pent-up feelings,” said veteran sports administrator AK Mattoo. “When we got the right to host the Games on in November, 2003, I was the happiest person and now I am feeling hurt. The event, which we had promised to the nation that it would be ‘the best ever’ seems to be jinxed,” a visibly upset Mattoo said. Before I proceed further, let me confess one thing. It took me three days to complete this write up. No I was not writing a research paper but when ever I thought I have finished, a couple of scandals used to crop up, forcing me to rewrite. But after third attempt I gave up. So this write up is not a complete story of the scams and scandals engulfing the Games.
“It is becoming a scandal a day. Games and ordinary citizen is just fed-up,” remarked veteran journalist Dev Sagar Singh, “I think now it has become sort of international obligation to host these Games, they are no longer
going to be the celebrations, which they were supposed to be.”
As the time is ticking away, the Organising Committee (OC) of the game and authorities are under attack from all side. At one stage it looked that Kalmadi headed OC will manage to get the Games through without much fuss, though there were concerned about the unfinished stadiums and other infrastructure.
But suddenly a small item appeared in the media and news
channels regarding the OC making a payment of nearly £250,000 (about Rs1.84 crore) to a little known London company—AM Films for the Queen’s Baton Relay on October 29 last year, without proper contracts or documents. Instead of promising an inquiry, Suresh Kalmadi as is his wont, went on the offensive and dismissed the allegations and even threatened to take a legal action against the channels and suddenly all hell broke out. At a press conference, Kalmadi claimed that AM Films was hired after a recommendation by an official of the Indian High Commission in London and kept on waving an e-mail purportedly sent by one Raju Sebastian of the Indian High Commission(IHC). IHC strongly refuted Kalmadi’s claim and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, confronted him with the original e-mails and showed him more e-mails from the commission which indicated that the mails had been tampered with.
READY FOR ANY PROBE: KALMADI
Going by to the adage that offense is the best of defence Organsing Committee Commonwealth Games Chairman Suresh Kalmadi on July 31,launched a blistering attack on some section of media who had alleged massive corruption in the preparations of the Games.
He rejected allegations in the media about financial irregularities as totally unfounded and baseless. “I wish to state that we have nothing to hide and I stand before you with clear conscience and complete conviction,” Mr Kalmadi said “We believe in total transparency. We do not have any official communication about the money trail that the news channel has been talking about.”
“The fact that the OC has sought a VAT refund of 61,419 pounds from the UK government shows that we have nothing to hide. The whole story is prejudiced. The ethics of journalism have been flouted as the news channel did not verify the facts from the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010, Delhi, before airing the allegations,” he said.
“The campaign is very demoralising for athletes and officials who have been working day and night for many years now to make the Games a success,” he said. “The need of the hour is to get on with the Games and be united to make this happen. Let not corruption be the only highlight. About the launch of the Queen’s Baton 2010, Delhi, in London on October 29, 2009, Mr Kalmadi said the budget for the function was approved by the executive board and necessary permissions for incurring expenditure in foreign currency were taken from the Reserve Bank of India. “All the remittances were made only against this clearance and no payments were made after October 30, 2009” he claimed.
Regarding the allegation that the Organising Committee transfers 25,000 pounds every month to AM Films for costume design, Mr Kalmadi said “It is all false and baseless, fabricated, prejudiced, frivolous and vindictive propaganda. These transactions do not exist,”
“The Organising Committee appointed M/s Jack Morton Worldwide through a global tender process as the event management company to organise the QBR launch ceremony in London. It also appointed M/s South Asia Academy, UK to organise the cultural programme during the launch. M/s AM Cars and Vans—a company empanelled by the High Commission of India in London—was appointed for all the transportation requirement on the rates approved by the High Commission.”
“On October 23, 2009, during a meeting chaired by Mr Tim Owen, Westminster City Council and attended by the officials of Metropolitan Police, London Traffic Control Centre, London Fire Brigade, Ambulances Services and authorities of the Buckingham Palace, we were told that additional items like mobile video screens, portable toilets, ambulances, barricades etc had to be placed at the launch site without which the authorities would not allow to hold the programme.”
“The Organising Committee agreed to arrange all the items and video screens were procured from AM Films Ltd at the cost of 1,46,868.80 pounds. AM Cars & Vans offered to help out through its associate company, AM Films Ltd. Both companies delivered all the requirements to the OC’s satisfaction. The money to AM Films Ltd was paid through bank transfer from Delhi with due approvals. The other items like mobile toilets, barricades etc were got through AM Cars and Vans,” he said.
“During the last week, media has come out with various stories regarding the irregularities in the orders/procurement etc of QBR launch function at London, overlays and association of M/s Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM) in obtaining the sponsorship for the Games. I have taken a serious note of these reports and appointed a three member committee.”
“I, as Chairman of the Organising Committee, am prepared to face any scrutiny by CAG or even a judicial probe for all financial transactions being reported by the media and all the people found guilty will be punished and brought to book.”
It is alleged that Kalmadi’s close associates Sanjay Mahindroo and TS Darbari are involved in this scam. Darbari is the deputy director general of the OC heading important functional areas like revenue, marketing and merchandising. He allegedly dealt with AM Films. More trouble followed after the Sports Ministry asked Kalmadi to terminate his services as his name has not been cleared in a six-month-old Kerala customs inquiry against him. Since then, there has been no respite for Kalmadi and company. Everyday new scandals crop up and every evening OC holds a press briefing to debunk them. But since External Affairs Ministry stepped in the OC was forced to setup a three member panel to probe into the whole controversy.
Besides this, the OC is under scanner of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) which in a damning indictment pointed out grave financial and quality irregularities of the infrastructure development related to the Games. According to the CVC report the higher rates were given for the bids, which then compromised projects with poor site management, delays and poor quality.
This is not all; Kalmadi’s request to BCCI for Rs 100 crore loan was turned down as the cricket body was not sure of OC’s financial position and also did not want to be associated with the tainted Games. Meanwhile, the Organising Committee faced one another blow when Railways decided to withheld its promised Rs 100 crore sponsorship. Railways has asked the OC to give a written undertaking that no money out of its sponsorship should go as commission to any agency. Railways took this step after OC refused to share the shareholding pattern of the controversial Singapore subsidiary of the Melbourne-based Sports Marketing and Management (SMAM).
It seems other public sector who have promised to give Rs 150 crore to CWG- Central Bank, Air India,NTPC-all Rs 50 crore each—will also seek the same assurance before releasing the money. SMAM has been given contract to bring advertisements and sponsorships worldwide worth $100 million out of this 23 per cent will be given to it as commission. So for it has not been able to generate any money from private companies. On the other hand most of the projects have failed to meet the deadline though work is going on at a break neck speed but that has resulted in compromising the quality of projects. The newly inaugurated Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Complex, though inagurated has not passed the test with International Body’s officials being very critical of the substandard material used in the construction of the complex.
Prior to this, a part of the roof covering the weightlifting auditorium at the newly-remodeled Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex, collapsed, during its inauguration. There was water logging in several other stadiums.
“I think Games are orphaned, there is no authority, everybody is having his/her share in the corruption,”opined senior journalist Renu Mittal. “One may like it or not the fact is that in 1982 Asiad was held successfully because there was single authority. Mrs Gandhi had set up a Special Games Organising Committee (SGOC) and Rajiv Gandhi with his band of young supporters overlooked the preparations and that is how the things were organised.”
Meanwhile, the Organising Committee(OC) lived up to its reputation of throwing up more surprises. It sacked TS Darbari, Sanjay Mahindroo and Jaychandran, pending the full inquiry. All of them are close associates of Suresh Kalmadi.
It also again brought in AK Mattoo as the treasurer, in place of Anil Khanna. Mattoo, who was also president of Hockey India, had resigned in early this year from the post alleging that he was not kept informed by Kalmadi while dealing with the revolt by the hockey player.
“I had resigned that time because I was not an elected president but a nominated one, I decided to quit as treasurer of the OC also because I did not want to create more controversy.” Mattoo told the media adding that he was requested by the executive board of the OC to take over the crucial finance posting because games were just round the corner.”
“I have joined not to bail out any body but to help OC to host the game in befitting manner,” he explained.
By Harpal Singh Bedi