What do four children, one sitting outside a house in an African town, another in a Chinese living room, a third in a Latin American market place and a fourth at an East European dining table have in common? All four pairs of eyes are glued to TV sets watching the London Olympics in 2012. This was the inspirational film that was part of London's winning Olympic bid in 2005.
But that's not what connects these four children across the globe; the real connection is the shared dream of glory as future sportspersons and winning in future Olympics. That is the kind of inspirational dream a mega sporting event has the power to evoke. Now if we now shift our gaze to the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), hosted by an aspiring global city, New Delhi, the discourse around legacy appears to be at best flimsy, uninformed and perhaps meriting new terminologies such as 'lackacy' or 'lootacy'. To put it bluntly, at least in material terms, legacy of a mega-event is what is left behind for the city after the party leaves town. Mostly this is measured by the benefits accrued by the city such as in improved living conditions: better transport, better housing, better sports infrastructure, better urban space. Delhi in its bid for the Games had indeed pledged all this.
Recently the so-called 'legacy plan' of the CWG was unfurled. It comprised a 'request for qualification' for operations and maintenance of five stadia in Delhi through public-private partnership (PPP). Who will qualify? Companies possessing net worth in hundreds of crores and with experience of construction and not sports management. Typically PPP involves funding and resources of private parties in creating public amenities. Here public money, public resources and public land have been used to create public facilities which will be handed over to private parties paying the highest premium to the authorities as a concession fee.
In return, the companies will be given the right to host sporting and non-sporting activities to generate revenues for maintaining these facilities. How will badly constructed, waterlogged sports facilities, all potential white elephants, maintained by private companies for profit help develop a sporting culture among our youth? Will the private company allow children to come play inside the facility? Love of sports can only be instilled in children if they have access to grounds of different scales nearby. In its current format, the legacy plan is just another lootacy plan. Why couldn't these facilities equipped with expensive turfs and tracks and swimming pools be handed over to the respective sports federations for hosting appropriate sporting events and engage local communities in developing a culture of that sport?
The term 'beautifying' has never been as ugly as in the case of the streetscaping to create world class amenities in Delhi. Wasn't this a perfect opportunity to develop areas which are never considered for development? South Africa set a wonderful example of such a development through the Fifa world cup by constructing transit-oriented community spaces in the most underprivileged parts of Cape Town.
Now, imagine if Delhi had a socio-spatial strategy of creating new public spaces in Bhalaswa, Holambi Kalan, Bawana and other such unheard of places that serve as resettlement colonies for displaced people. The city would not only have shared the social experience of CWG with the poor but also given a chance to their children to share the dream of future sporting greatness with other children around the world. Those would have been legacies worthy of a mega-sporting event in an aspiring global city.
Sudeshna Chatterjee is a Delhi-based urban designer and writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.