Major sporting events in India, other than cricket and cash-rich professional leagues, appear to follow Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The 19th Commonwealth Games hosted by Delhi in 2010 struggled to defy this law. It is now the turn of the 12th South Asian Games (SAG) that Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated in Guwahati on Friday.
Guwahati, Assam’s principal city, is co-hosting the 12-day event with Meghalaya’s capital Shillong. But the two northeastern cities, in the least connected of India’s regions, were not in the reckoning for the much delayed multi-sporting event until last year.
New Delhi was supposed to host the South Asian Olympics Council-conducted games in 2012, two years after Dhaka hosted its 11th edition. But it had to be postponed due to assembly elections in the national capital. The International Olympic Committee then suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) from December 2012 to February 2014, leading to further delay. Kerala was tipped to host SAG after IOA’s suspension was revoked, but Guwahati and Shillong got the vote.
The Assam government’s confidence in hosting the region’s first major international sporting event apparently stemmed from its success in organising the much-delayed 33rd National Games in 2007. But it had then built a games village, close to the sporting venues, to accommodate the athletes and officials. These were sold over the years.
The rate of infrastructure growth in Guwahati and Shillong has seen a number of hotels and guesthouses come up. Few are equipped to handle a sudden rush of visitors associated with mega sporting events. Better coordination between the state sporting bodies, the local administrations and SAG council could have sorted things out, particularly in Guwahati where most central PSUs have guesthouses.
Accommodation of the participants also betrayed a lack of planning. The 134-member Pakistan contingent, for instance, is scattered across eight hotels in Guwahati several kilometres apart, and coordinating their movement is likely to be a nightmare in a city where the roads have not kept pace with the buildings.
Transportation has also been an issue for athletes who have to travel to certain sporting venues at Sonapur, 30 km east of Guwahati. The Bangladesh and Sri Lankan contingents had a taste of things to come when they were stranded at Guwahati’s LGBI Airport. Lankan sports official Maxwell de Silva played it down, saying “we must remember we are in Guwahati and not New Delhi”.
The objective of decentralising sports to centres outside the metros is laudable, but major events need to be given only to those cities that are ready for them. In other words, what Indian sports events need is clarity from conception to execution, clear timelines and disciplined execution. There appears to be a feeling that participants from poorer South Asian countries don’t deserve any better. The national prestige is at stake. And so is Assam’s pride, especially in the election season — one would have thought the stakes were high enough for chief minister Tarun Gogoi and Union minister for youth affairs and sports Sarbananda Sonowal, chosen as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate.