New Delhi: Even as residents of India’s capital ruminate on the downside of hosting the Commonwealth Games—they have just been slapped with new taxes to pay for the event and traffic in the city is more chaotic than usual because of all the last-minute construction work—controversies surrounding the event refuse to go away.
The latest has to do with beef.
Delhi’s Congress government has, citing a law that bans the sale of beef in the city-state, said it wouldn’t be on offer to athletes and support staff during the Games, according to Raj Kumar Chauhan, minister for revenue and the public works department. Hindus consider the cow to be a holy animal.
Photo: Pradeep Gaur / Mint
“Rules framed by the Delhi government prohibit sale and import of beef,” he said. “We will obey the rules and not serve beef at the event.”
The man in charge of the Commonwealth Games saw red when he heard of the dietary restriction.
That’s “news to me”, said Mike Hooper, chief executive officer of the UK-based Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), which is responsible for direction and control of the multinational, multi-sport tournament involving 53 countries. Hooper added that host cities have the obligation of meeting all the dietary requirements of participants.
“Beef is a staple diet for sportspersons and a sizeable population in general the world over. I am a little surprised given that a lot of five-star hotels in India do have beef on their menu,” Hooper said in a phone interview from London.
He added that such constraints are unprecedented in the history of the Commonwealth Games. “In 1998 when Kuala Lumpur, which has a sizeable Muslim population, hosted the event, it served pork as a host country. It’s a reality one has to accept. Athletes can’t change their diet overnight simply,” he said.
Muslims do not eat pork as they consider pigs to be unclean.
Meanwhile, the ruling Congress party’s main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has threatened to stall the Games if beef is on the menu. “Cow is worshipped in India and is part of Hindu religious beliefs. We are ready to field bullets, but will not let beef be served here. Those eager to eat beef can go elsewhere and are not welcome,” said Kanwar Sain, mayor of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the municipal body for the national capital, which is run by the BJP.
At least 100,000 foreign visitors, including 8,000 athletes from 71 nations, are expected to participate in the Games that will be held over 12 days in October.
Hooper is also upset that the committee in charge of organizing the event is dragging its feet over selecting caterers for the event. The caterers for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, he points out, were chosen more than a year in advance.
After reports of delays in several areas critical to Delhi’s preparedness to host the Games, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed two senior officials to the organizing committee.
Interestingly, the organizing committee had earlier said beef would be imported for the event if required by the athletes and visitors. The committee’s secretary general Lalit Bhanot said on Tuesday that the menu for the Games was yet to be finalized.
The jury, however, is still out on whether athletes need beef.
G.L. Khanna, dean, Faculty of Applied Sciences at Manav Rachna International University, and member of the steering committee of CWG India said beef is usually needed by sportspersons for its high protein content, but Shashi Kant Goswami, nutritionist at Sports Authority of India said beef has never been served officially to athletes in the country though some of them could well be eating it.
Perhaps realizing that beef is an issue over which Indians will argue till the cows come home, another member of CGF struck a conciliatory note. The host country’s preferences and choices would have a bearing on what happens, said Chet Greene, member of the CGF sports committee.