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Billion-dollar Games: Bane or boon?

The countdown to the Commonwealth Games is generating more nervousness than excitement, with each day bringing in news that we may not be ready in time for the event, writes Pradeep Magazine.

india Updated: Jul 17, 2010 01:33 IST
Pradeep Magazine

The countdown to the Commonwealth Games is generating more nervousness than excitement, with each day bringing in news that we may not be ready in time for the event. The infrastructure is being built at a furious pace so that deadlines can be met and everyone is worried that the Games, intended to showcase India’s economic might and organisational abilities, may end up embarrassing the nation.

It will be futile to get into the debate that did India, in the first place, need to take the responsibility of hosting such a mega sports event. We all wish that the Games are organised flawlessly which makes the world take notice of the progress we have made as a nation.

What is worrisome at the moment is that we are not properly debating the pros and cons of hosting the 2019 Asian Games, for which the Indian Olympic Association has already made a bid. Have we realised that hosting a major international multi-discipline event means spending thousands of crores, with very meagre returns?

Well, the city may get its flyovers, roads and public transport, something which does not require the excuse of a sports event to be developed. But will it help India become a sports power?

Gigantic stadiums don’t help in improving sporting standards, as past experience has taught us. What a country like India needs is money to be spent on developing training centres at the grass-root level and coaching centres for its elite sportspersons for them to compete with the best in the world.

In the absence of facilities and a sports culture, we can’t take advantage of the interest generated by hosting a mega event.

That is one part of the problem. The more important one is that should a country like India, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is so huge that it draws comparisons with the poorest regions of the world, be spending billions of dollars on hosting a sports event?

Hosting the Asian Games is like hosting the Olympics. In Asian Games, competition is held in 42 disciplines in comparison to a mere 17 in the Commonwealth Games. Unlike the Commonwealth Games, competition in the Asian Games is of very high standard, with countries like China, Japan and Korea participating. And if India do decide to host the Asian Games in 2019, they will, on a rough estimate, end up spending something like 40 billion dollars, the same amount China spent on hosting the Olympics in 2008.

These are staggering sums and in the end who pays for it? The taxpayer.

We are already seeing how much of a money guzzler the Commonwealth Games has become, with the government now struggling to raise more funds for it. From an estimated Rs 900 crore when the bid was first made, the costs in the last ten years have risen to around Rs 40,000 crore and may even cross half a lakh crore.

Where is this money coming from? If funds have to be diverted from schemes meant for the poor (Rs 700 crore has been diverted from funds meant for Scheduled Castes, according to a report), then there is something sickeningly wrong with our priorities.

The IOA, which is not going to spend any money in hosting the event, should not be allowed to hijack the Asian Games bid in the name of national pride. The government needs to do serious introspection on whether pouring billions into extravaganzas like the Asian Games will serve any purpose?