Delhi CWG organizers accused of owing millions

Delhi CWG organizers accused of owing millions

Berlin: Organizers of this year’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) were accused on Tuesday of owing companies millions of dollars and blocking equipment used for the opening and closing ceremonies from leaving India.

Several companies, including the one in charge of the ceremonies which cost around $50 million in total, told Reuters they had yet to receive final payments and had been unable to re-export their own equipment since the Games ended on 14 October.

“This is a scandalous situation. I find it outrageous an organizing committee behaves like that," said Ric Birch who has organized ceremonies for Olympics and Commonwealth Games since 1982.

“The behaviour of organizers and Indian government agencies has been so shameful that any international company must beware of entering into any business contracts with Indian government agencies."

“We have written to everyone from Games organizers to government officials to the International Olympic Committee member for India and we have received no reply. Not one of them replied," Birch told Reuters in an interview.

Among those contacted in correspondence seen by Reuters are JJ Thompson, special adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Games chairman Suresh Kalmadi and Games chief executive Mike Hooper.

Only Hooper replied, telling Birch he was unable to contact organizers.

“Not much of an effort for a Commonwealth Games CEO," said Birch, director of production at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics who staged the ceremonies for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was also a consultant for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

When contacted by Reuters on Tuesday, Organizing Committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot refused to comment. “I’m busy in a meeting right now," he said.

VK Verma, director general of the organizing committee, said: “I would not be able to comment as I was not handling that at all. You have to speak to the in-charge of ceremonies."

Kalmadi did not take calls despite several attempts.

Equipment Lifeblood

Birch’s company is one of about a dozen still owed several million dollars for work carried out at the 3-14 October Games in New Delhi, according to correspondence seen by Reuters that was sent to organizers and officials.

Apart from the money the companies have yet to receive, equipment worth millions of dollars is stored in dozens of freight containers in India unable to clear customs.

“For some of these companies involved this equipment is their lifeblood," Birch said.

One of the companies involved is Howard and Sons Pyrotechnics, responsible for the fireworks during the Delhi Games ceremonies.

Andrew Howard told Reuters they were still owed 300,000 Australian dollars ($298,800).

“We also have a shipping container and 14 pallets of airfreight stuck in Delhi," said Howard.

The opening ceremony was viewed as restoring some pride after a woeful build-up risked plunging the Games into complete chaos.

The $6 billion Games was intended to showcase India’s growing financial might but threatened to become a farce and only late scrambling by the embarrassed government salvaged the event which features mostly former British colonies.

Corruption, shoddy construction and health and security risks blighted the build-up, bringing into question India’s ability to host an event of that size.

Britain’s Prince Charles opened the Games, with President Prathibha Patil also attending at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on 3 October.

“India is doing damage to the reputation and brand of the Commonwealth Games," Birch said. “If they ever mounted an Olympic bid we would make sure the bid would not get very far."