It should not be like this. With a couple of months for the opening ceremony of the coveted Delhi Common Wealth Games, the populace should be in a national frenzy, heady with fervour as it gears up for the biggest global sporting extravaganza India has hosted since the 1982 Asiad Games. However, the spirit is deficient. And not for want of a reason.
With kickbacks, inflated purchases, biased tenders, payments to non-existing firms, dubious offshore money transfers, the Common Wealth Games reek of greed and corruption. That aging crooks clinging to their seats of power run Sports Federations, is an open secret. However, what has captured the imagination of the masses is the embarrassing fiasco that the Delhi Common Wealth Games is playing out to be. As skeletons tumble out of the closet, the Organizing Committee and its Chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, are virtually blackmailing the nation to choose between finishing the preparations for the Games on time or prosecute those accused, he included.
Ironically, the Organizing Committee has nothing to do with infrastructure contracts. Kalmadi only had the authority to disburse amounts up to `1,600 crores most of which is for administrative purposes. Nevertheless, evidence of his involvement in every aspect of the tendering process is hard to ignore. Kalmadi and his powerful coterie of ministers, irrespective of their rebuttals, control everything from ‘suggesting’ (read deciding) different sponsors for the games, the firms that were awarded construction contracts, to the brands allowed at the Games. The value of these contracts collectively, `35,000 crores.
However, Kalmadi is not the sole individual to blame. The collapsing walls, leaking stadiums, the new Games village and the numerous delayed projects are entirely the government’s fault. The Delhi government failed to complete the work on time and as per International Standards. The Delhi Development Authority, the New Delhi Municipal Committee, the Urban Development Ministry and a whole gamut of other organizations who were given the role of transforming Delhi for the Games have failed miserably. The central government has typically washed its hands of the mess and has failed to impose accountability and discipline in the Organizing Committee as it hopes that the controversy will blow over once the Games conclude.
International sporting extravaganzas are about creating eternal moments and massive public relations exercises to enhance a country’s brand image. The recent FIFA World Cup reinforced South Africa’s position as the top destination for global sporting tournaments. A little girl in a red dress singing ‘Ode to the Motherland’ is one of the most endearing visuals of the Beijing Olympics that served as the face of a new Chinese benevolence. The Common Wealth Games on the other hand, has just achieved one thing; it has made a lot of people very rich.
For a nation that desperately seeks to be an equal with China, the Common Wealth Games is a potent reminder of the harsh difference between the two countries. The Beijing Olympics was as a billion dollar coming of age vehicle for China. In contrast, the Delhi Common Wealth Games is a poster of Indian incompetence and greed. The Games is an opportunity for India to showcase its emergence as world power on the global stage, an opportunity that we are magnificently frittering away.