Who could have imagined that the Commonwealth Games would be so exciting? Never has any sporting competition been so much fun, never has it been so widely and avidly followed. Games organisers from Beijing to London to Johannesburg are enviously asking just one question: how on earth did we manage it?
The simple secret of success, hatched from the fertile brains of the Organising Committee, lies in one powerful idea: pre-Games competitions. They knew that nobody gave a rat’s fart about the Commonwealth Games —most countries didn’t compete, star athletes avoided it like the plague and it was ignored on TV. The only way to grab eyeballs was to have a series of contests before the Games.
That’s when they thought of breaking a few records. “Why not,” said a bright spark in the committee with a brother-in-law in the umbrella business, “try to break the world record for buying things at the most outrageous prices? Things like umbrellas, for instance?” “Or even chairs, air-conditioners, treadmills?” he added, nodding to committee members with relatives in these businesses. And thus was born this remarkable game everybody is talking about. Why, the other day a contractor with the Pentagon, who held the world record in high-priced toilet rolls, was forced to admit defeat. Veteran purchasing managers in government departments have said that the way the committee has gone about buying things is an inspiration.
The committee has also organised a series of slugfests. The Mani Shankar Aiyar versus Suresh Kalmadi bout, for example, was a great hit, with Aiyar landing a body blow with his quip that those who were organising the event were evil, while Kalmadi’s riposte branding Aiyar anti-national was wildly cheered. TV channels airing the bout saw their TRPs zoom. Other fights with a large fan following include the Indian High Commissioner in London versus the Organising Committee, Aiyar vs M.S. Gill and CAG vs CWG. People were confused initially why the Commonwealth Acrobatic Group was against the Commonwealth Games, but that was cleared up when they realised CAG stood for Comptroller and Auditor General. For those who want to bet, CAG is the clear favourite.
Yet another contest they dreamed up was: which contractor could finish his project as close to the opening day of the Games as possible? It is because they want to come first in this Just-in-Time contest that stadiums haven’t yet been completed and roofs haven’t been fixed. The odds for the swimming pool winning this event are 30 to 1, but I have an inside tip it’ll be completed seconds before the Games begin.
Another interesting competition is between cities that host such games and consists in trying to maximise the number of people they can evict. Beijing held the world record with its Olympic Games, but Delhi is now the clear winner, kicking out slum dwellers, homeless people, stray dogs, cows, donkeys, rats, beggars and even snakes with unparalleled zeal.
Other interesting pre-Games contests include who can forge the most e-mails, which roof leaks the most, who can tell the tallest tales and which official can make the most foreign trips.
Even the athletes are excited. “Every day at the Games will be an adventure,” gushed one of them. “One never knows when a railing or roof will collapse, when the floor will cave in or when a track turns into mud. It puts an amazing zing into things.” He added he wasn’t worried about leaking roofs, as he would be protected by a R6,000 umbrella.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal