Last week the government did what most people had predicted would eventually happen. Tired of the bickering and worried that the country would end up with egg on its face, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took charge of the preparations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG).
Overnight, prospects of infrastructure being readied in time for the Games next October brightened. A day after Mint reported the PM’s move on 5 November, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) decided to more than double the funding for the Games. With the infusion of new energy and funding, it is very likely that the projects connected with the event will be completed on schedule.
But is that it? Absolutely not. First of all, it is tragic that despite the oversight of a sports minister, chief minister and a raft of specialists, it requires the PM’s intervention to salvage a situation arising out of a lack of planning or vision. The PM, beset with economic, political and security issues, surely has enough on his plate to now worry about bailing out lax political colleagues. Secondly, in the public eye, unfortunately so, the crux of the problem is getting the infrastructure up and ready in time. Part of this is thanks to the very ugly and avoidable public spat between Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief and Delhi CWG organizing committee’s chairman Suresh Kalmadi and CWG Federation’s chief executive office (CEO) Mike Hooper.
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The end result was that public attention has focused on how these differences in the management team would delay matters further and eventually result in the infrastructure not being readied in time.
Unfortunately, this is only part of the problem and, ironically, probably the only thing that the country may get right by next October. Two things immediately stand out: one emerged from a conversation with a sports writer friend and another in the context of the upcoming first anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
The first is the issue of legacy and the second is with respect to developing a robust and flexible disaster management system.
Getting the infrastructure ready for the fortnight-long Games is important, no doubt, but has any thought been given to how these expensive assets will be utilized afterwards and how the CWG can be harnessed to move this city and country forward—herein lies the legacy of the Games. Significantly, at the time when Hooper and Kalmadi were publicly slugging it out, Glasgow, which is the host of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, put out its legacy plan (www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/08/21141849/0) on 1 September—five years ahead of the actual Games!
As the Scottish government put it, “This plan sets out our aspirations before, during and after the Games to 2019. This is the start of the story and highlights how we intend to go forward over the coming years to ensure we reap the benefits of Glasgow 2014 and other major events. An Active Scotland, A Connected Scotland, A Sustainable Scotland and A Flourishing Scotland represent our ambitions for a lasting and positive legacy. They are about making faster progress towards a healthier nation; developing healthy communities; and a strong and flourishing economy.”
I don’t recall anyone discussing any legacy plan for the New Delhi CWG—the second biggest international sporting event hosted by the Indian capital since the 1982 Asian Games.
A search on the CWG website shows this throwaway in a sub-section titled legacy under City Plans: “And, of course, the Games will leave behind dramatically improved, world-class sports facilities that generations of Indian sportspersons can use in the future. The establishment of an Olympic-size pool as well as a gym in the Delhi University will boost sports among the youth of Delhi.” It overlooks the fact that only a section of the students in the National Capital Region study in Delhi University, leave alone the rest of the country.
Like Scotland, India today is poised on the cusp of a has-been country trying to realize its potential against mindblowing odds. The CWG could have been instead turned into a fantastic opportunity to generate momentum towards propelling India to a 21st century where 50% of its population does not have to worry about missing out on a daily meal and we could produce our own Usain Bolt—the most consummate athlete we have seen so far and of course the fastest man in the world.
If this is disappointing, more worrying is the failure to evolve a credible disaster management system. The Mumbai attacks showed us how unprepared we are to deal with a terrorist assault. Especially since the odds are so much in favour of the terrorists—they need only one chance to succeed while the authorities can’t afford to fail even once.
Leave aside such a frightening prospect, what’s worrying is whether the city can deal with even mundane occurrences—an unexpected downpour, a power outage and so on—in a situation where there are so many moving parts. May be the government has a plan, or may be it doesn’t—either is equally plausible.
Which begs the question: Isn’t it time that we shed our chalta hai attitude and give some serious thought to how we plan for such big-ticket sporting events before we even contemplate pitching for them in the first place?
Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
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