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South Asia Monitor
Shame and Scandal Plague Commonwealth Games
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
India’s Commonwealth Games set to roll in New Delhi from October 3 has turned out to be the nation’s biggest shame. To cost USD 7530 million (or Rs 35000 crores), and this does not include the city’s improvements and additions in infrastructure This will be the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever.

But the cost – all coming from Indian taxpayers sky rocketed because of terrible mismanagement and hugely inflated bills. Overnight, men in charge of the Games have become stinking rich, and the event has helped to convert common wealth into personal wealth.

The scandalous reports of financial corruption, nepotism and incompetence have already tarnished India’s image to a degree that appears beyond redemption. The sports stadia are not yet ready, and where they are, there are growing fears of substandard materials having been used. The roof of the weightlifting stadium, part of the main venue, began leaking hours after its inauguration. The ceiling of the SP Mukherjee Swimming Complex also came crashing down and a swimmer was injured. Earlier, a roof at the Yamuna Sports Complex collapsed.

The games village is not ready, nor are the living quarters for the hundreds of players who would descend on New Delhi.

The blame for all these rests squarely on the shoulders of Suresh Kalmadi, head of the Organizing Committee of the Commonwealth Games. He also happens to be a Congress Member of Parliament, the party that heads India’s coalition government.

Mihir Bose, a former BBC sports editor and a London-based writer and broadcaster, has been quoted as having said: “I do not understand how Kalmadi has come to acquire this position of influence in the Indian Commonwealth Games. He has no sporting credentials and he makes no international impression. The question is who is Kalmadi? Had it not been for the Commonwealth Games, would we have ever heard of him?”

The moot point is, why are Indians obsessed with politicians, and have men like Kalmadi governing Indian sports. The answer is easy. It has to do with class bias. To quote Bose again, “In India, players tend to come from the lower classes, with the possible exception of cricket. They are not considered intelligent enough to run sports, never put in a position of power and always exploited by the babus and politicians. The politicians ride on the back of the athletes and use their success to acquire power and run sports in India”.

The Congress feels that Kalmadi must be seen as the head of the Games and not as a party representative. Worried about the stigma to the brand, the chief of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mike Fennel, has asked for an inquiry into the allegations.

What is even more condemnable is the abdication of responsibility by Kalmadi and the government. Both have begun passing the buck: for now, it stops at a British firm that got the Queen of England furious, and a couple of Australian firms. Last year, the Committee hired a British firm for a games related service at a hugely inflated sum of money. Kalmadi claimed that the firm was hired on the explicit advice of the Indian High Commissioner in London. It now appears that the email shown as proof of such advice may have been forged.

The Queen will not attend the sporting event, though for reasons other than corruption, and this will be the first time in the history of the Games that she, the symbolic head of the Commonwealth, would be absent. Also, some star sportsmen will not participate.

Included in this scam of scams is vulgar spending. Over 200 USD was spent on every single roll of toilet paper bought for the Games. Approximately, USD 13000 was used to hire each thread-mill for two months, while seven or eight of the gadgets could have been purchased outright with this amount. Over USD 130 was spent to hire an umbrella for the duration. An official explained this by saying that it was of a special kind that can withstand winds of very high velocity. But New Delhi is not on the pacific coast. Nor is it in a region frequented by cyclones. Where then are the winds blowing from?

And, all this spending in a country where 76 per cent of the population of the 1.3 billion people lives in abject poverty, with less than USD 40 cents a day to spend. Does the nation need the Commonwealth Games at all in the first place?



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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