'Friendly Games' soured

If you live in Delhi, you are sure to have already got accustomed to it, but if you are just a visitor, you should not be surprised if you think you have landed up amidst a giant construction site. Look in any direction, and you will see some construction going on at a feverish pace – it could be a stadium undergoing renovation, a flyover being built, a metro track being laid, a five star hotel being raised or a Games Village being erected. All this, you guessed it right, is to get the Indian capital ready for the Commonwealth Games, to kick off less than a year from now, on October 3, 2010 to be exact.

If you have been following the media reports in the last couple of months, you would also be right to believe that there is a lot of chaos involved in all this. Almost everything relating to the preparation for the Games running behind schedule, which not surprisingly has led to a lot of bickering between the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and local Organising Committee (OC), their top honchos are trading charges against one another.

Will Rahul step in?

It is commonplace, therefore, to find television channels and newspaper columns full of debates on whether India would be able to host the Games successfully, without denting its pride. But then, as Union Sports Minister M S Gill has compared the Games, probably rightly so, to a typical Indian wedding in which last-minute preparations are the absolute in thing, the sense of chaos is perhaps inherent to the Indian psyche, especially when it involves organising something as big as the Commonwealth Games. As old timers would recall, a similar chaos had engulfed the run up to the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, and things fell in place only after the late Rajiv Gandhi, then rising in the Congress fast under the shadow of his mother and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, took charge of the things. In fact, if things do not fall into place well in time, it should be no surprise to anyone if the present young face of Congress, Rahul Gandhi, emulates his father and earns some brownie points for his apparent management and leadership skills by doing so.

But it will happen - should it happen - only in the future. At present, Gill is having a clearly unpleasant task at hand. He is in the midst of refereeing a bout of mental boxing between 2010 OC Chairman Suresh Kalmadi and CGF head honchos. Things erupted when CGF CEO Mike Hooper said a couple of days ago, “It’s the understatement of the year that the games are behind schedule and that we have concerns regarding the preparations,” a comment that was backed by CGF president Mike
Fennel. Kalmadi first demanded that Hooper be dismissed, and when that demand was rejected by Fennel, said Hooper must be moved out of India.

This incident was just one of the latest in a series, with the most damaging one for the local organisers till now being Fennel’s public expression of doubt over Delhi’s capability to host the Games and seeking the Prime Minister’s direct intervention to set things in order. The way things are moving – in one particular incident, OC secretary-general Lalit Bhanot even tried to prevent Hooper from giving a television interview even as he was in the midst of it – one definitely has not heard the last of such feuds, though Gill will play the mediator to sort things out by bringing together both sides at a meeting in London on October 28.

But amidst all this, the fact remains that Delhi has to get its act together to host the Games in time. And with the lack of preparedness becoming almost an international embarrassment to it, the government has actively got involved in the proceedings now, especially after a surprise visit by Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary T K A Nair to the Games venues sometime back alerted it to the relatively slow pace of work. Nair reportedly found out in his survey that 65 per cent construction of the Games Village for housing athletes and officials was complete and the entire structure would be up six months before the Games start. Various other reports have quoted sources to say that construction of new stadia and upgradation of old ones would be over by March. On the accommodation front, a review meeting earlier this week by Tourism Minister Kumari Selja reported only 5,645 hotel rooms out of the 10,268 “definite” and 1,757 “likely” rooms for the Games are ready. Even out of the targeted 3,000 Bed & Breakfast units, only 1,534 are available in the National Capital Region right now.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, a veteran of many battles, is one person who is gung ho about all this, because she sees the Games as an opportunity to build all the required infrastructure for Delhi, something Delhiites too are hoping for. According to data, Delhi will have 47 flyovers, a full-fledged metro rail system, and 570 AC coaches that will be put into service on city roads after their duty to carry players to venues is over. All this and more, thanks to the Games. The government is pumping in the required funds for the Games projects, even bailing out private realty company MGF Emaar, which is constructing the Games Village in partnership with DDA, with a Rs 500 crore bailout loan.

Olympic dream

The budget for the Games has been raised from Rs 2,112 crore in the Interim Budget to Rs 3,472 crore in the Budget presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee so that there is not even a comma, let alone a full stop, in the works related to the Games.
Quite clearly, the prestige of the country depends on the success of the Games. Everyone is hoping the OC and the CGF will be realistic to stop quibbling and work as a team to make the event a success.

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