Common Wealth Games: A Golden Opportunity Lost

When Delhi, India was awarded the honor of hosting the 2010 Commonwealth games, the nation rejoiced and vowed to impress the world. Seven years later the headlines talk of national shame and public humiliation. What went wrong?

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The Commonwealth Games is an international multi-sport event that involves athletes from members of the Commonwealth of Nations (mainly nations that were formerly part of the British Empire). The event takes place every four years with the last one held in Melbourne, Australia and the next one scheduled to start in two weeks in Delhi, India.
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For India this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is a chance to display its growing global economic and political power, and prove skeptics wrong. The $6 billion games are not only a means of attracting people to come visit the country, but it also serves as a platform from which the nation can catapult itself onto the world stage of sports. There are massive financial gains to be made as well as the opportunity for the largest public relations campaign ever. With the world focusing on India for the duration of the games, much like the Olympics in China this is the moment that India can shine…Or not.

This opportunity now threatens to be the biggest disaster to hit the nation’s reputation in a long time and is already providing to be extremely embarrassing for the government and the people. With the threat of mass withdrawals by the teams and the facilities not being close to ready for the games, there is even a possibility that the games might be postponed or cancelled. Scotland, Canada and New Zealand have delayed their team’s arrival while a few top athletes have refused to attend, citing medical reasons.

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The athletes’ village is still being constructed and officials of the games have called the accommodations “uninhabitable”. There are reports of stray dogs, workers urinating in public, filthy living quarters, homeless squatters and outbreak of diseases like dengue. As the government rushes to complete the infrastructure it is compromising on quality; a footbridge at the stadium collapsed injuring many people and the false ceiling in the weightlifting arena caved in.

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Compounding these issues is the security concern. Officials of the Commonwealth federation are not convinced that the government has or can make necessary security arrangements, especially if their performance in other areas is anything to go by. Two tourists were also shot in a touristy area of Delhi a few days ago heightening concerns that the games can prove to be easy targets for terrorists.

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Delhi citizens are also fed-up. They have been living with this construction, debris, and the resultant congestion and traffic jams for years. Instead of an influx of people into Delhi, most Delhi-ites are leaving for other cities for the duration of the games. Unfortunately there also hasn’t been the influx of tourists that was expected. The country had seven years to prepare but this lack of foresight, planning and concern is very typical of governments in developing nations. This disaster will have serious repercussions for other developing nations as well, as federation officials will hesitate to award other developing nations this honor and responsibility.

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The Indian government initially pegged the cost of the Commonwealth Games at less than $100 million in 2003, but the figure has skyrocketed, with estimates ranging from $3 billion to more than $10 billion. Unlike the Olympics, these games do not attract many international sponsors or get TV rights fees so it is more a question of national pride and showing off the potential of a nation. The Beijing Olympics are a classic example of a nation coming together and showing its might to the world, and other events like the recent World Cup in South Africa prove that great things can be accomplished even in challenging environments.

In an interview, the sports minister joked that the games were like a stereotypical big chaotic Indian wedding -- and that after lots of last-minute efforts everything would turn out fine. As true as that stereotype is, I’d hate to be the event-planner on this one.