What the Games cost us
The exhaustive media coverage of the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) would convince one that all was (not) well.india Updated: Oct 26, 2010 21:49 IST
The exhaustive media coverage of the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) would convince one that all was (not) well. Whether it was the presence of stray dogs in the village, corruption allegations, the displacement of migrant population or the neo-colonial aftertaste, it was clear that the American phenomenon of ‘media gone wild’ was wilder in India, with expected repercussions. One is reminded of the story of six blind elephants trying to determine what humans are like and coming to the ludicrous conclusion that ‘humans are flat’. CWG 2010 is that ‘flat human’ — all bad, no good.
CWG 2010 is likely to go down as the least understood mega event to be hosted by any city in the recent past. A few brief outlines of clarity are desperately called for to dispel the chaos. Why did we host these games, and more importantly, how did we host them?
Academic studies on mega events have recognised that they are hosted for two key reasons: economic and societal development, and strategic marketing and management of a tourism destination. Mega events help improve tourism and sports infrastructure for present and future use (e.g. roads, Delhi Metro, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium etc); foster development of the arts, sports, culture, heritage and leisure and promote feelings of pride, community, and nationalism (as opposed to such feelings being aroused through non-peaceful events). As far as marketing a tourism destination is concerned, such events help create a favourable image through positive media exposure, attracting foreign visitors, expanding and spreading tourism and other business opportunities. These are positive, achievable goals that can accrue if the event is properly managed from inception to execution, which can justify why CWG 2010 was being hosted in Delhi.
What we see, however, is that while the country has invested an estimated R70,000 crores into the Games, many of the potential benefits are being undermined by the prevailing negative tone.
Not all costs are monetary. A report by Equitable Tourism Options identifies the cost of CWG 2010 to the Indian democracy, including the unilateral decision to host the games, human rights violations, misplaced investment priorities and misleading promises. We needed budget accommodations not ‘starred hotels’. Instead of localised sports schemes, we invested into centralised mega facilities in the NCR.
The volume of spending was certainly amplified here, even by mega event standards. The winter Olympics in Vancouver had its share of budget overruns, displacements, safety hazards and human rights violations. The Indian context is unique, given its stage of development and high population density, amplifying these alternate costs. So what do Indians get in return for their investment?
What the years of hard work put into CWG 2010 by multiple agencies have yielded is national pride and identity, a reliable image on the world stage and a positive legacy. We cannot forget that Pakistan had helped us secure the bid. The Asiad Games Village (Khelgaon), the various stadiums and the pavilions constructed in Pragati Maidan in 1982 are a legacy of the 1982 Asiad Games.
A negative perception causes more harm than good, negating many of the potential economic, social, and strategic benefits that are still for the taking. India, and especially Delhi, has a lot at stake. However, do the stakeholders (bureaucrats, politicians, media, public, etc.) realise that our returns on this investment will be shaped by how we ourselves perceive it? Maybe it is time to experience the CWG 2010 in a positive tone.
Nishant Pyasi is PhD candidate at University of Calgary The views expressed by the author are personal