Thursday, October 14, 2010

India's `Olympic Dream' Distant as Commonwealth Games Cross Finishing Line

New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games ended with martial art battles and a laser show after a record haul of gold medals for India and last-minute fixes to venues rescued an event that had threatened a national embarrassment.

During a two-hour closing ceremony that also featured army marching bands wearing tartan capes and leopard skins, and a dance tribute involving 2,010 children, the games flag was handed to officials from Glasgow, host to the 2014 event. Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the local games organizing committee, thanked officials for overcoming “serious roadblocks. We have learned a lot.”

Empty stadiums early in the event and repairs to the athletics track after the opening ceremony gave way to ticket sales of about 50,000 a day as India won 101 medals, 38 of them gold, to lie second in the overall standings behind Australia. India reached the final of men’s hockey, a national favorite, before being thrashed 8-0 in today’s final.

Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell today praised the “very high standard of venues.” While transport and ticketing problems had to be fixed during competition, there “is no doubt that the overall image of the games has been good,” he said. “Delhi has performed.”

Photographs on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s website showing unclean bathrooms at the athletes’ village, missed construction deadlines, the collapse of a stadium footbridge, the resignation of officials for “financial irregularities” and warnings of terrorist threats forced Scotland, Canada and New Zealand to delay their departure for Delhi.

‘Miles to Go’

Those failings exposed the progress needed before India can fulfill its ambition to host the Olympic Games, said Boria Majumdar, a sports historian and the author of “Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games.”

“The way the whole thing unfolded -- the lead up, the infrastructure delays -- shows we have miles to go before we can mount a serious Olympic bid,” Majumdar said in an interview.

The Indian Olympic Association had said a successful event this year might spur a bid for the 2020 Olympics. “I have a dream of bringing the Olympics” to India, Kalmadi said at a Oct. 12 press conference in the capital. “When, I don’t know.”

Last-minute work on the track and infield at the 60,000- seat athletics venue will “have certainly brought up an amber or a red light” with the International Olympic Committee, said Ian Henry, director of the Centre for Olympic Studies and Research at the U.K.’s Loughborough University, on Oct. 13. “The report card at the end of the day is a very positive one for the manner in which the games were conducted.”

Singh’s Inheritance

The Oct. 3-14 event, held every four years and featuring 71 countries and territories, most of them former British colonies, is dwarfed by the 204 nations who took part in Beijing’s successful $70-billion Olympics in 2008.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who inherited the Commonwealth Games from his predecessor and had to rally senior ministers last month to ensure they went ahead, spent $4.6 billion on arenas, roads and power to highlight a “confident” new India.

Instead, 97 percent of respondents to a Sept. 23 online newspaper poll believed the games, and the role of Singh’s government, had damaged the country’s image. Moody’s Analytics Inc. said that investors may reassess the attractiveness of India’s $1.3 trillion economy after preparations foundered.

Fennell on Sept. 25 expressed his disappointment with Delhi’s organizing committee, saying at a press conference that the lack of preparedness had hurt the country’s reputation. “I would hope at the end of all this, India would have learnt a great lesson,” he said then.

Sick Swimmers

After a spectacular opening ceremony that won global acclaim, early events were poorly attended, forcing Kalmadi to open more ticket booths and consider allowing school children in for free. When a dozen members of Australia’s swimming team fell ill, competition and practice pools were probed. Tests showed nothing unpleasant lurking in the water.

“Patently problems were magnified in the Western media,” Loughborough University’s Henry said. Organizers need to tell the world they understand the need for a more “rigorous approach to staging major events,” he said.

A bigger competition in India is unlikely to be “on the anvil,” Mahesh Rangarajan, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said in a phone interview. Singh’s “Congress party’s priorities are elsewhere: socio-economic reconstruction, creating jobs, improving education,” he said.

The cost of the games is almost half what the government will spend this year on a rural jobs program that has benefited more than 41 million village households. India has 828 million people living on less than $2 a day, the World Bank estimates.

Record Inflows

India’s economy, which has grown at an average 8.5 percent in the past five years and that the International Monetary Fund expects to expand 9.7 percent this year, may prove more resilient than Moody’s forecast.

Foreign funds have purchased Indian stocks valued at a record $21.83 billion this year, lured by the potential of Asia’s third-largest economy.

“People in the international investing community already know the difficulties of putting their money in India,” said Laveesh Bhandari, director at New Delhi-based Indicus Analytics Pvt., a research group. Despite its handicaps, “India is still lucrative,” he said.

No comments:


back to top