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Games people play

india Updated: Aug 01, 2010 22:02 IST
Ashok Malik

As New Delhi prepares for the Commonwealth Games, the legacy question is looming large. This refers to the civic infrastructure and sporting facilities the Games will leave behind. Typical of India, it also points to the mopping-up operations that will be required.

Here, the experience of the 1982 Asian Games may be instructive. Those Games were put together by the Asian Games Special Organising Committee (AGSOC), expected to be disbanded shortly after the closing ceremony in December 1982. It is sobering to learn AGSOC is still around. Its secretary general, K.S. Bains, still attends office. Now long retired from the IAS, he does not draw a salary but continues to avail appropriate perquisites, including the services of a personal assistant.

For 28 years AGSOC has been locked in a legal battle with a Dubai-based contractor. It cannot be dissolved till its court liabilities have been met. Recently, AGSOC won the case against the contractor and is now hiring lawyers in Dubai to force the offending company to adhere to the Indian court’s verdict and pay compensation. Even if the Dubai lawyers waive their fees, AGSOC will earn itself no more than Rs 1.5 crore. In the past quarter-century, the government has spent well above that in keeping the two-man AGSOC office alive!

Horror stories like these add to the growing scepticism about those who are organising the Commonwealth Games. Indeed, alleged financial swindles related to the Games are expected to burst upon India before the year is out. They will make the Indian Premier League (IPL) scandal look like child’s play.

For one, the sums involved are much larger. Also, in the end, IPL was about private money and embezzlement. The Commonwealth Games involve taxpayers’ money. For instance, it is unclear why sponsorship funds paid by a public sector company on the advice of its administering ministry are shared between the Commonwealth Games organisers and a mysterious Singapore-registered ‘marketing company’. Is this a replica of the Mauritius entities that picked up ‘facilitation fees’ on major IPL deals?

At the root of the Commonwealth Games mess is the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and its handpicked Organising Committee (OC). The OC is responsible for the actual conduct of the Games. Its chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, has divided the OC’s work among 24 sub-committees, some of which have 64 members. The OC has also hired 450 employees.

How is the OC meeting its expenses? To run the Games, and pay allied costs such as multi-year salaries to 450 unknown professionals, the OC had sought Rs 400 crore in its original projections of 2003. That sum has gone up to Rs 1,620 crore and the OC now demands more, arguing it has no money to pay caterers and feed athletes. As for the 450 employees, the government has no record of who has been hired and how much he or she is being paid. Some activists have moved a petition under the Right to Information Act and hope to get an answer.

In addition, the OC has also sought Rs 687 crore for ‘overlays’ — temporary fittings at stadiums already built and handed over to it by government agencies. The procurement of these temporary fittings will be left to the OC and it will choose the vendors. At the end of the Games, it will no doubt declare that all the temporary fittings have been irreversibly damaged and the Rs 687 crore should be written off.

To be fair, Kalmadi and the OC have been insisting they are only borrowing money from the government and will pay back the Rs 1,620 crore, the Rs 687 crore and whatever else they get. They propose to do this from the Games revenue. How feasible is this?

The 2003 bid projections estimated revenue collections worth Rs 1,708 crore. So far sponsorship deals of about Rs 400 crore have been signed. Much of the money has come from PSUs. Even if this money is used to repay the government — and given the OC’s record that is extremely unlikely — it will only recycle taxpayers’ money. Where are the incremental earnings?

Brazen to the last, the IOA has gone and bid for the 2019 Asian Games (the Olympic Council of Asia or OCA has moved the date from the scheduled 2018). It appears the economic recession has scared away other potential hosts and New Delhi may actually win. To add to the frightening prospect, the IOA has recommended the term of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee be extended to 2019.

The IOA decided to bid for the Asian Games in December 2009. It informed the OCA but forgot to tell the government of India, only sending an email on April 28, 2010. After eight reminders, it finally came up with a vague plan in mid-July. This gives an indicative budget, allegedly based on estimates of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. In 2019, the IOA says it can host Delhi’s second Asian Games for $401 million. It has even promised revenues amounting to $450 million.

Believe it at your peril.

Ashok Malik is a political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal.