The lackluster legacy of Delhi CWG

Biswajit Jha

As the Indian government and the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee race against time, here comes ‘Sellotape Legacy’, a well-written document of New Delhi’s helplessness in preparing for the Games by sports historian Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta. It is a forecast for what we are going to witness before and during the Games.

The book is one of the sagas of short-sighted Indian politicians and the administrators of the Games whose sole objective was to show the political and new-found economic prowess of India at the world stage by turning its capital into a ‘World Class City’. From the bid document to the messy arrangements in the run-up to the Games, there was no intention of turning India into a global sporting powerhouse as was the case with China when they hosted 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As the book shows, though the organizers of Delhi 2010 had told the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) that ‘sports and games propagated at the highest levels have a miraculous capacity to percolate even to the grassroots and also achieve the widest coverage’, the ground reality remains far from the decorated argument for hosting the Commonwealth Games in the country.

In a country where the National Games have not taken place since 2008, where there is no sports policy at the grass-root level, where there is only one individual Olympics gold medal winner ever since the inception of the modern Olympic Games, hosting a mega event like the CWG is nothing but a waste of tax payers’ hard-earned money.

‘Sellotape Legacy’ points out that the infrastructure created for the facilitation of sports in New Delhi will, in all likelihood, turn into a white elephant in the future due to the acute shortage of sports infrastructure and lack of sporting culture in the country.

The book reveals how both the Central and the Delhi governments, which had dreamt of basking in the glory of a successful Commonwealth Games, allowed the budget to escalate and put no realistic tabs on it. So when former sports minister Mani Shanka Aiyer questioned the validity of organising the Games, he had a legitimate reason to feel so.

We find in the initial chapters of the book how money which was supposed to be used for rural sports development programme under the Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) was not used and instead diverted to organizing the CWG. For the government, organizing the Games was of paramount importance, not the development of sports in the country.

This attitude of the government resulted in uncontrolled expenditures and rampant corruption in organizing the events as was reported by the Indian media just a month before the prestigious events. Initially, the total budget of the games was estimated as Rs 617.5 crore which was allowed to grow to 70,000 crore, which is absurd and illogical in a country where millions of its population still live below the poverty line.
Apart from its minute details and graphs on how expenditure escalated, the book also ridiculed the Indian government’s efforts to show India in ‘good light’ by hiding the poor of the city and failure to generate the interest in common man of the city who feels isolated and disconnected with the whole ‘circus’. We find that the people of Toronto in early 1990s once raised the slogan ‘We want bread not circuses’ to voice the protest against organizing the 1996 Olympics which ultimately forced the administrators of the country to opt out of the bid.

But the most engaging facet of the book is the history of Commonwealth Games and history of India’s entry into the Commonwealth. Boria Majumdar, who has taught the history of Commonwealth Games at the University of Toronto, shows how CWG failed to appeal to the Indian mindset before the independence and how things changed after India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to make India’s entry into the Commonwealth, albeit on its own terms and conditions which infuriated nations like Australia and Canada. For the Indians, it were the Olympics and even the India-England cricket series which used to hold more significances because those were the stages India could show their nationalism by defeating the Britishers.

For most of the people of this generation, who still wonder seeing India organize the Colonial Games, which according to the authors, is the third most important sporting event in the world after Olympics and FIFA World Cup, the book will surely help in understanding the politics behind Nehru’s decision to join Commonwealth.

Like all the Boria Majumdar books on sports history, this one is also gripping, full of anecdotes with interesting facts and figures. Boria writes as he speaks and when he speaks, both his head and heart come into play, which is why his writing is pleasing to read.

As we have been witnessing for the last couple of months, the hosting of the Games by Delhi is all about the patch-up and catch-up jobs, the big question that haunts us is: What will be the legacy of Delhi CWG 2010? According to the book: ‘The relationship between host city development and mega sporting events will continue to depend on the city’s ability to market itself as a key tourism destination following the event, and also on its ability to harness the facilities constructed for the Games for its residents…more than the venues or the Games Village, it is our urban infrastructure and more importantly the issue of community integration that is of paramount importance in the time remaining…do these Games belong to the organizing committee or the Government of the India or to the Indian people at large?’

Since the Games have failed to generate interest among the common man of Delhi, the book aptly prophesized the legacy of Delhi as ‘Sellotape Legacy’.