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CWG: Lessons Learnt

It is good to rejoice but we must not forget the dark side in the euphoria.

Shobhika Puri

Finally, the Commonwealth Games 2010 are over and we have been fairly successful in hosting this mega event. All’s well that ends well. However, it is not easy to forget that the run-up to the Games was a nerve-wrecking experience with reports of corruption, incomplete construction work, collapsing bridge, security threats etc doing the rounds. Repeated assurances by Sheila Dikshit or Suresh Kalmadi could not soothe nerves. Many Indians were keeping their fingers crossed from October 03-14, 2010; many were offering silent prayers; many volunteered to provide a helping hand; many spent sleepless nights; many worked round the clock… All this seems worth the effort now that the Games have been declared a success. Indians have proved the critics wrong. Indians have done it yet again!

It is good to rejoice over our victory of sorts in hosting the Games but, we must not forget the dark side in the euphoria. No matter how hard one tries, it cannot be denied that the Games did lack on many fronts. There were many loopholes that were plugged at the last minute. The risks were too high. Now that the Games are over and still fresh in our minds, it is the right time to ponder over the events and learn some lessons, before they fade in our memory.

The CWG contract was awarded to India in 2003, but the work began in 2006. It was 2009 that the on-the-ground work actually began to show. It would be no exaggeration if one were to say that 60-70 percent of the implementation related work was completed in the last one year. Sadly, the media too started taking notice of the progress three months before the event was scheduled to start. Then, all hell broke loose! Every media channel, online and offline, was hosting discussions about what Suresh Kalmadi or Shelia Dikshit did wrong; about how the Games would be a disaster; about how India would be put to shame; about what could and should have been done.

The media did a good job in exposing corruption and loopholes but, it was too little and too late. Had all this been done at least four years in advance and also, had they followed the progress diligently every week or month, much harm could have been avoided. How come Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi interfered at the penultimate hour? Had the government kept a vigilant eye from the beginning, a lot more could have been done. So, who is at fault? No doubt that people who were entrusted with the task are at fault but the media too needs to share the blame along with the government.

According to some reports, the initial budget for the Games in 2003 was estimated to be Rs 1900 crores but, the actual costs are anywhere between Rs 30,000 and Rs 70,000 crores. Whatever be the real costs, the point is that the expenditure did spiral out of control and that too at levels difficult to fathom. So, what went wrong? First, incorrect budget estimation in 2003. This could be due to a lack of understanding of the project at hand, or due to inexperience, or lack of seriousness in doing an in-depth analysis. Second, inflation. Some rise in costs can be attributed to inflation, but 15 times escalation? Not understandable. Third, since the work started quite late, last minute work cost more. Fourth, corruption. Though this is yet to be proved in a court of law, it is like an open secret. How else can one explain the over-priced toilet rolls or treadmills? Also, the contracts were given to some companies with not-so-good backgrounds, sometimes even without proper documentation. Corruption is the single biggest reason for the cost over-runs.

So, what are the lessons learnt? It is one thing to win a contract but another to honour it. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the people who are entrusted with the task know their jobs well. There is no shame in taking assistance from other countries who have hosted similar events in the past. It is always advisable to re-visit the plans regularly to incorporate changes in the external environment like inflation. Also, if one realizes that the project is not running as per the schedule then alarm bells should be rung in time. One should not wait for the last minute to seek help. And, coming to corruption. What can be said about this deep-rooted malaise in our government systems? This is a long and never ending debate. Time and again, demand for accountability and transparency has been made by the common man to address this issue. This time again, this demand can only be reiterated.

Another disturbing aspect of the Games was the fact that there was a multiplicity of authorities and agencies involved. There was no one single person or department that took responsibility for the Games. The Organising Committee blamed the government; the government blamed the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and so on. Unfortunately, political scores began to get settled through the fiasco preceding the Games. Thus, it is very important to clearly define responsibilities so that there are no conflicts or overlaps.

The biggest lesson that the whole of India needs to learn from the Games is self confidence. Unfortunately, we, Indians were leading in criticizing the Games. Even Sheila Dikshit lamented the fact that Indians are perhaps the only people that do not take pride in being Indians. The media too went overboard in reporting only the negatives. There were many positives to the Games as well, as has been proved now and then; how come the media did not see them earlier? The reason is TRPs. The role of the media is to do unbiased reporting, showing the facts, both negative and positive. Had this been done, much goodwill of our country would have remained intact. Unfortunately, the common man too joined them in criticizing the Games and how we shall be a big failure. What more can India’s detractors or critics ask for? They too joined the bandwagon and till date, the international media has not stopped inspite of the success of the Games. Why blame them? If we do not have confidence in ourselves, then how can we expect others to have confidence in us? It is our fault.

In all the chaos surrounding the run-up to the Games, all of us seemed to have lost the rationale for hosting the same. The Games presented us with an excellent opportunity to showcase India, our talent and our tourism industry; and above all, it provided us an opportunity to develop our sporting culture and to honour our unrecognized sportsmen and women who lack even the basic facilities to hone their skills. We have been fairly successful in showcasing our talent and rich culture through the opening and closing ceremonies, but a lot more could have been done. The government could have attracted tourists by advertising what India has to offer. Instead, what happened was just the opposite. Due to the negative publicity many international sportsmen and women called off their participation at the last minute and the number of tourists too were far lesser than what was expected. And, the poor Indian sportsmen and women who already face many odds to come up to the level of participation, were grossly neglected. Kudos to them for having done India proud inspite of all the odds!

Fortunately, some of our sportsmen and women have got the recognition long due to them, but a lot more could have been done. Children could have been encouraged to see the sports live to help them develop a sporting culture. People should have been incentivised to watch the Games as this boosts the morale of the players. Now that sports other than cricket have come to the fore, the government should use this opportunity to develop infrastructure and systems for providing support to our sportspeople and for encouraging people to take up sports as a career.

There is no doubt that the huge costs involved in running the Games cannot justify the returns but if somehow India can develop a sporting culture in future, all will not be lost. Hope all Indians - the media, the government and the common man - learn their lessons from this mega event and avoid the mistakes, err - blunders, in future. Hope the next time an event of the scale of CWG is thought of, India becomes the preferred country to host the same. Hope we all learn our lessons this time at least.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)