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December 2009 - January 2010

India Sport Scene

Commonwealth Games: Is India ready?

by Ruchi Pandey

Hoardings and billboards all through the city of New Delhi are constant reminders of the much-awaited event of the year 2010 – Commonwealth Games. The Games will be the biggest multi-sport event to be hosted in India after the Asian Games in 1982. There is excitement in the air and people are eager to see the Games taking place in the country. The government, both at state and national level, is racing to get everything in place before the Commonwealth Games. The capital city of India is getting a whole new look, with new stadiums, swimming pools and a Games Village being proposed and constructed. To remedy the perennial problem of traffic and transport, several new flyovers have been constructed. Moreover, phases have been added on to the initially proposed routes of the Metro to provide maximum connectivity within the city. To further support air travel, the Indira Gandhi International Airport is being modernised and upgraded. New hotels and lodgings are also being constructed.

The planning looks set to deliver a wonderful experience of the Games, one that has never been felt before. However, it is execution that really matters—to prove to the world that even developing nations can conduct successful sports events of an international level. The important question then arises is–Is India really ready to host the Games? If the readiness of infrastructure is any indication (in fact it should be the indication), then perhaps the feeling should be one of apprehension.

Construction work at the Games’ venue is running at a snail’s pace. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, with an investment of GBP 7.14 million , was slated to be renovated by November 2009. However, due to slow progress of work, the deadline has been extended to March 2010. A visit to the stadium reveals unfinished pillars and concrete outlining of the accommodation and training rooms. Only 55% of the work is currently complete. The apathy is despite the fact that the venue will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the Games.

Work at the aquatics venue at the Yamuna Sports Complex is only 7% complete. DU Rugby ground, where the Rugby Sevens event would take place, is all dug up, but one can hardly see any construction. Only 35% of the work is complete at the venue, however, assurances have been provided by Suresh Kalmadi, Chairperson, Games Organising Committee, that the ground would be ready by March 2010. Shivaji Stadium, which is being redeveloped at a cost of GBP 1.3 million, and will be used for hockey training, has so far been only 26 per cent complete.

The dismal situation is a sad but true story for most of the venues. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Complex, which is to host aquatics, swimming and diving events, has also missed its June 2009 deadline. Work is only 45 per cent complete here. The Indira Gandhi Stadium, which is to host cycling, wrestling and gymnastics, is only 55 per cent complete, and will only be ready by March next year.

Accommodation is set to pose yet another problem. According to Rajinder Kumar, president of the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India (FHRAI), the city is expected to witness a shortfall of 15,000 rooms during the Games, with the total availability of rooms, including guesthouses in areas such as Paharganj and Karol Bagh, pegged at approximately 25,000, compared with the demand of 40,000 rooms. With less than a year to go before the Games, it is nearly impossible to build the required number of rooms.

A survey conducted by HVS Hospitality Services, an international consultancy, has revealed some startling information. According to the survey, only 60 of the 100 projects announced for the Games in 2007 have even been launched. In addition, of these 60 projects, only 53% will be built in the next five years, and only 5,700 rooms are expected to be ready for the Games.

Ajay Bakaya, executive director, Sarovar Hotels, says, “It’s not just hotels, the entire hospitality industry will be under tremendous pressure as the demand will far outstrip the supply in every way, from rooms to taxis for tourists.” Looking at the situation, it is hard to even imagine how the tourist population visiting the country for the Games would find a shelter.

The beautification drive undertaken by the government too lacks lustre. As part of the master plan and in preparation for the Commonwealth 2010, the city has witnessed the construction of numerous flyovers in the past many years. However, the unoccupied spaces under the flyovers have only become a haven for miscreants, with no attempts to create green areas or landscapes. The only silver lining is the construction of Metro, which is on time and up to international standards, in terms of safety, reliability, punctuality, comfort, customer satisfaction and maintenance.

Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Fennell also highlighted several problem areas, ranging from ticketing to accommodation, transport, accreditation and logistics.

Fennell raised these issues on his recent visit, along with officials and members of the CGF, for the inspection of the venues for the Commonwealth. In a very strong-worded statement made after delegates from competing countries inspected Delhi’s games facilities and the Games Village, he said, “With two years to go to the Delhi Games I said to the organizing committee that time was not their friend”. “With one year to go, I now say that time is your enemy, but together we can defeat it.”

He even sought the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention in the matter, and in a letter to the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CWOGC), has asked for a meeting with the Indian premier. The seriousness of his concerns over the state of preparations and the delivery of a successful event are reflected in his statement. “Our main concern relates to the capacity of the Organising Committee to deliver operationally. Preparations for the Games are significantly behind, so much so that the Commonwealth Games Federation is extremely worried about the Organising Committee’s ability to deliver the Games to any comparable standard to that of the last two editions of the Games in Manchester and Melbourne.”

The response of the visiting delegates was also not very positive. The Talkatora stadium, the national stadium and the S P Mukherjee aquatics pool, which are all lagging considerably behind schedule, came under the flak. However, the Commonwealth Games Village was appreciated by the delegates, with most feeling that it would turn out to be one of the best Villages in the Games’ history. The Thyagraj stadium, which is also getting ready as per schedule, was also praised.

Commonwealth 2010 has only brought into the limelight what has forever been known to be the problem with India. Recently, the Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting expressed his disappointment at the damp pitches, which his team was supposed to practice on before a match with India. And who can forget the World Cup Cricket match played in Delhi in 1995–96? It is not memorable as India lost ignominiously to Sri Lanka, but because the new structure that hosted the VIP and press enclosures still had wet plaster, some of which was applied on the day of the match, with lime used to give it a finished look!!! The problem is a combination of lackadaisical attitude, red tapism and bureaucracy, which have marred the Indian system for long. Time is indeed running out of hands, and India should expedite all processes and take things seriously if it wants to put up a good show.

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