Sellotape Legacy | Boria Majumdar & Nalin Mehta
The idea behind organizing the Commonwealth Games, as we understand from Sellotape Legacy, was to have a sporting event that would be less stressful, less competitive and friendlier than something like the Olympic Games. Or to quote a passage from the book by Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta, it would be “merrier and less stern, and will substitute the stimulus of a novel adventure for the pressure of international rivalry”.
Anyone who has been following the build-up to the 2010 edition of the Games, starting in Delhi next month, will agree that it’s been anything but stress-free—the latest scandal to rock the still unbuilt corridors of the Games facilities is the Games Village that houses athletes, which some nations have found unfit for residence. This week, the foot overbridge to the main CWG venue collapsed.
The controversy, corruption and convolution of facts that have become synonymous with these Games are inspiration for the authors of Sellotape Legacy, a rather timely treatise. The present scenario is annoying, given the condition Delhi is in, given the amount of money spent and the premise that led the Union and state governments to put their weight behind an event whose value as a global brand remains to be established.
Sellotape Legacy—Delhi & the Commonwealth Games: HarperCollins, 302 pages, Rs 450
Additional airport tax has been levied on passengers to make up for the expenses in modernizing existing structures, new stadiums have been built, including one that will “provide a lasting legacy for the sport of lawn bowls”, and additional hotel rooms have been designed for an assumed avalanche of foreign visitors. But whether the around Rs 65,000 crore being spent on infrastructure and power generation projects, among others, will benefit taxpayers and contribute to the welfare of the city and its citizens, remains a moot point, say the authors.
The Games are a symbol of India’s egoistic necessity to prove a point—that its robustly growing economy can support a multi-sport event, that if China can do something (the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Asian Games), we can do better, that India’s presumed emergence as a global sporting power needs the endorsement of having hosted a mega event. Of course, that sporting emergence rests heavily on Abhinav Bindra’s solitary gold medal and a couple of bronze medals two years ago in Beijing. It has still given administrators confidence that a clutchful of medals from a below-average field of sportspersons next month would be ample reward.
The Commonwealth Games may be, according to the book, the third biggest world event after the Olympics and the Football World Cup, but their relevance in India has always been limited even though the country has been more successful in these (in the 2006 Melbourne Games, India won 49 medals, including 22 gold).
Sellotape Legacy’s usefulness remains current—a chronicle of everything that’s gone wrong with the Delhi edition for those who may not have followed the daily newspapers but might still want to find all the stories in one place. It’s academic in a manner that most of Majumdar’s books tend to be, with tables and figures, a register of Indian sports history if you will, that is not otherwise easily available and is less explored.
While the initial chapters dealing with the processes and follies leading up to the Games are delightfully cynical, the book begins to falter when it gets into the history of the Games. This does not have enough drama to sustain interest. The narrative on former hosts of the Games, their intermittent problems with it, the political machinations (except for the ones involving South Africa and apartheid) will not grip the reader. Though the authors point out that the engagement between the Empire Games (the Games were called the British Empire Games from 1930-50, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Games from 1954-66) and the Commonwealth movement was always acutely political, in the Indian context this association shows sport’s “critical role in shaping modern India polity”. Understandably, hosting the 2010 Games was a political decision—one based not on a historical connection, but a mere flexing of recently found economic muscle.
The book is otherwise solid— the research detailed, the language crisp, the scale wide. It throws up pertinent questions, which do not have clear answers but reiterate what’s already in the mind of Indians who can see their tax money turn into coffee machines at the Games Village.
The Sellotape Legacy concludes that, “A failed Games experience will add teeth to the murmurs that there remains a serious discontent between India’s new-found modernity and the masses who still inhabit pitiable conditions of existence.” That may already be happening.
In Six Words: CWG is more politics than sport