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Commonwealth Games: a white elephant?

Commonwealth Games: a white elephant?
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First Published: Tue, Feb 13 2007. 09 44 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Feb 13 2007. 09 44 PM IST
The planning began in November 2003 as soon as the city was chosen to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The list of improvements was endless: the Metro, flyovers, hotels, athletes’ quarters, swimming pools and tracks for running, biking and vaulting.
Across Delhi and its suburbs, as fields, roads and shops are cleared to make way for the infrastructure needed to stage such a monumental event, it has become clear that the future of India’s Capital is inextricably linked to the Commonwealth Games, a multi-sport event held every four years. The Centre will pick up most of the tab, estimated to be Rs5,000 crore.
There is already talk of leveraging the Games and its proposed infrastructure as a potential platform for the country’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.
At a private forum here on Thursday, panelists, including Suresh Kalmadi, the president of the Indian Olympic Association; Sheila Dixit, Delhi chief minister; and Madhukar Gupta, secretary, ministry of youth affairs and sports, plan to seek answers to whether sports can be used as an agent for development or a sporting legacy created for future generations through development of infrastructure.
It isn’t an easy answer. Sceptics of the theory that sport can be as much of an economic catalyst as opening the retail sector to foreign investors wonder: What really happens after the athletes and fans go home?
The dilemma is familiar to cities that hosted events such as the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and Olympics.
In one US economist’s study of Olympic host cities, only Nagano, Japan, which held the1998 Winter Olympics, has broken even. Several other cities struggle to maintain the behemoth facilities built for global sporting meets.
“It is not worth the cost in New Delhi,” says Philip Porter, a professor of economics at the University of Florida, who has studied the effects of athletic events on host cities. “Only a few hoteliers will make money.” For instance, “What will you do with a velodrome when the Games are over?” he asks, referring to the curved track for cycle racing.
Such critical appraisals are also coming from closer home. In a report expected to be released later this month, Delhi-based consultant Dunu Roy says he fears the Games are likely to leave a legacy of debt as a result of illogical planning.
“Games will add to civic infrastructure, but only partially,” says Roy, who runs the Hazards Centre consulting group and advocates for the urban poor. “The type of civic facilities required will be very specific, and in select locations.”
Roy’s report questions some of the Games-specific development planned for Delhi. He says the Metro station in Patparganj, for example, will add chaos to an already congested area. He also notes that the tunnel being built under the Yamuna river is great for athletes travelling between their quarters in East Delhi and the Nehru Stadium in the heart of the city, but wonders who will use that thoroughfare after the Games are over.
“All the money that should have gone for infrastructure upgrade of the city is going elsewhere, to create infrastructure that’s not really needed,” maintains Roy.
The organizers of the Games insist there will be big payoffs. They have signed two marketing firms to handle sponsorships and advertising so that the Games generate strong revenues. The two firms, Fast Track and Sports Marketing and Management, declined to comment.
Organizing committee treasurer Ashok Mattoo says the Central government has asked the Games organizers to pay back Rs800 crore, or about a-sixth of the projected spending, while the remaining expenses are being chalked up as an investment in the Capital region’s infrastructure.
Revenue from the Games, Mattoo says, will likely top the amount that the organizers are being asked to pay back and at least Rs900 crore could be generated in revenues from sponsorship, marketing, broadcasting, ticketing and merchandizing.
Efforts are already under way to achieve this goal. The Confederation of Indian Industry has set up the Business Club, a joint initiative with the Games organizers to tap economic opportunities. Already, some British firms have begun visiting Delhi to scope out businessavenues.
“We have been talking marketing, and now we will get into it full scale,” says Kalmadi. But beyond profitability, he says, is the whole question of prestige.
New Delhi’s hosting of the Games stands to reap immeasurable amounts of publicity from other countries and patriotism from within India. Kalmadi led the country’s bidding process to land the Commonwealth Games, calling his success a “great moment for India”.
Indeed, Delhi has been through a makeover before, courtesy a major sporting event. In 1982, the city hosted the Asian Games at an estimated Rs1,000 crore, bringing flyovers, hotels and swimming pools to the Capital’slandscape.
“The city got a facelift from the 1982 Delhi Asiad, and the same will happen again,” says Dipankar Sarkar, director of sports at the Delhi Development Authority, an autonomous government department building the athletes’ village and two indoor stadiums.
But some structures built specifically for the Asian Games, a regional meet held every four years, have gone largely unused for decades. The Talkatora swimming complex has become more of a showpiece; its diving pool’s water remains still most days. Of the city’s three hockey grounds made with Astro Turf, only one—the Shivaji Stadium—is used for tournaments.
Not everyone within the government is happy about the money the Centre wants to spend on Delhi. A Central minister in the ruling Congress party said an already-developed Delhi alone would reap the benefits of the Games—making it unfair for areas across India in desperate need of economic revitalization. “It would have been perfect if another city hosted the Games,” said the minister, who did not want to be identified because the government and his party pushed for Delhi to host the event.
Measuring the profitability of the Games, organizers and economists agree, can be a highly intangible formula with results often not known for decades. The 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, are expected to net a $1.6-billion increase in the Gross State Product over a 20-year period and create 13,600 jobs, says consulting firm KPMG. Similarly, a survey by the New York-based Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, which monitors global hotel performance outside North America, said Greek tourism benefited from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Athens spent around $14 billion to host the summer games—more than double the amount originally projected.
The Commonwealth Games organizers said they were working with existing facilities in Delhi and ensuring that the structures, new and old, would have a life beyond 2010. But refurbishing the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium alone would cost the Delhi government Rs 500 crore, said a senior official.
DDA’s Sarkar said construction costs at the athletes’ Games Village would be offset, if not surpassed, by selling off the housing as luxury apartments. DDA will have to raise at least Rs1,000 crore—the cost of constructing the village. That kind of talk bothers Roy. Delhi doesn’t need any more luxury apartments, he says, but desperately needs more affordable housing for its government and lower-income citizens.
Priyanka Mehra contributed to this story
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First Published: Tue, Feb 13 2007. 09 44 PM IST