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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Crying Games

Wall Street Journal: "Games Open on Winning Note"
Times of India: "Games Village is best ever in history of CWG - Fennel"
BBC: "Games Begin with a Spectacular Opening Ceremony"

"I am delighted in a way because rains are causing difficulties for the Commonwealth Games. Basically, I will be very unhappy, if the Games are successful…"
Mani Shankar Aiyer

At first glance I felt outrage at the words of this Indian politician and Rajya Sabha MP. How could he make such an unpatriotic statement, I thought to myself, it really is shameful, disgusting and an embarrassment to our country who is about to host the Commonwealth Games (CWG) later this year. Even though his justification for the statement and his stance has to do with the fact that he believes that the money could have been put to better use to provide basic public facilities and infrastructure for the country instead of these “circuses” as he put it. A noble thought on some level but to actively want your country to fail when hosting such a large and prestigious International event, still made me feel like it was an inexcusable sentiment. However in the days that followed and with the ever increasing media coverage of the lack of preparedness, missing paperwork, unaccounted for public funds, forged email orders and nonsensical contracts all to support the now whopping Rs, 11,000 crore budget which is a 1,328% increase over the initial estimate of Rs. 770 crore – I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Aiyer and have joined the camp that hopes that these games are a total, utter and miserable failure and the greatest embarrassment to our 64 years of Independence.

Even before all this financial impropriety started to come to light, the continued reports of lack of preparedness and standards of the facilities managed to scare the Queen away, who for the first time in forty-four years will be missing the opening of the CWG, due to a “heavy workload.” In addition a number of Britain’s top athletes have also decided to skip the games in order to focus on the 2012 Olympics in London. Should we take personal affront to this or perhaps they have just been following the same media reports I have been reading on Delhi’s readiness for the games. Perhaps, the report about the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Complex that was inaugurated on 18th July but a week later was spotted with water seeping along its walls and a leaking roof after some heavy drizzle. And these incidents were followed by an Indian athlete getting injured while training in the Olympic-sized pool. Or maybe it was the one about yet another completed venue that sprung a leak. This time it was the cycling velodrome at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, where the roof also apparently started leaking after some rain showers. However, a senior official did confirm that the leak was “not serious and repaired promptly.” But can he keep up I wonder as the next report covered the “extensive leakage” at the Yamuna Sports Complex when rainwater accumulated in the false ceiling causing the ceiling to collapse. Incidentally, this games complex had been officially inaugurated on 29th June. Although, I can tell you that games officials confirmed there was no damage to the wooden flooring – hallelujah! Then there are the other venues like the Karni Shooting range which look like construction war zones with ‘kuccha’ tracks, piles of brick and loose stone lying around, blotches of paint in some places, massive holes in the ground and no approach roads but claiming they will be ready and fully functioning even though there are less than 70 days to the start of the games. Then again if they are anything like the stadia already inaugurated then arguably this too will be completed and ready for use ahead of schedule. Oh did I mention that the original budget for this range also crept up from the original estimated Rs. 16 crore to Rs. 149 crore. Keep in mind that according to International guidelines all CWG projects were meant to be completed by May 2009 with the following year meant to be used for trial runs and making needed adjustments.

If all this is not enough to scare the Queen and every athlete, now we have new reports surfacing everyday about the depth and breadth of corruption and financial impropriety on a hitherto unimaginable scale, even for India. The Central Vigilance Commission is now investigating 16 projects and this number is expected to rise much further as reports continue to surface of favoritism in selection, bidders being allowed to tamper with figures post-auction, use of sub-standard material, rigging of bids, gold plating and go-ahead of projects which were not even required. In random concrete samples used to test for strength, the CVC technical teams found that large numbers failed to meet the basic 28 day strength requirement. When tested at an independent laboratory they found that the cement content was much less than the prescribed or claimed amount used by the contractors. Mind you these samples were also tested and passed by the Government Civic agency in charge. In other words they fabricated these reports and findings. One of my favourite findings by the media has to do with treadmills that have been hired for the duration of the games, which not only shows the ridiculous depths our politician greed will sink them to but also their brazenness. Harrods of London sells state-of-the-art machines for £10,000 or Rs. 7 lakh. But our CWG games organizing committee in all its corrupt wisdom has decided to hire treadmills for 45 days, which means they will just rent and return them, for Rs, 9,75,000 or £13,301 a piece! If you are still reeling from the shock then consider that Mr. Suresh Kalmadi (Chairman of CWG Panel) and his committee are also hiring chairs, no doubt to sit and watch the people on these treadmills, for Rs, 8,378 apiece. After which you can cool off with a cold drink of water from one of the refrigerators they have hired for Rs. 42,202 apiece.(Times of India article:

China’s Olympic bid and hosting was treated by the nation as her entry onto the world stage. An announcement that China was ready to be a global superpower. One that has the infrastructure and ability to organize, manage, host and deliver on such a massive scale for such a prestigious world event. Granted China is a totalitarian regime and getting things done there is much simpler and easier than in a democracy. Basically, the Chinese government decided what it needed to do to successfully stage the games, and went ahead and did it. Even if it meant driving people from their homes or shutting down private businesses for the lead up to and duration of the Olympics. One can cut India some slack here as with democracies one has to deal with environmental groups, citizens protests and the slow pace of government bureaucracy. But let’s then consider South Africa hosting the recent Football World Cup. By all accounts the progress and lead up was frenzied, with major delays and budget overruns. FIFA officials wondered for a long time if the nation would ever be ready or if the rampant crime and institutionalized corruption would lead to a disappointing World Cup. For the sake of national pride, South Africans managed to pull together, put aside their many differences and deliver despite corrupt government officials and institutions. I read that the local criminal gangs even agreed to an unwritten amnesty for the duration of the games. Not only did South Africa deliver but they surpassed every expectation, winning over even their harshest critics, who left showering praise on the state-of-the-art facilities, the impeccable organization, the lack of serious crime and the warm reception. They did their nation and their continent proud and they did it against all the odds as a nascent 16 year old democracy.

Today is Independence Day, our 64th year as a free nation. Don’t get me wrong. I love my country, and perhaps it is this patriotic fervor that brings me to agree with Mr. Shankar Aiyer; albeit with a heavy heart and a sense of shame. All the eyes of the world are upon us, to see if too India can deliver an event of this magnitude and prestige. From India’s perspective the stakes are also high, as we try to get serious recognition on the world stage as a regional and global power. Failure will no doubt leave us the spectacle and laughing stock of the world. But failure will perhaps, just perhaps also be the bitter pill we all need to swallow to awaken our national spirit and finally stir our sense of patriotic duty.