Not Too Random - Games people play

31 July 2010

Sankar Radhakrishnan:
Expectedly, the EQUATIONS report I wrote about a few days ago is less than enthusiastic about the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi later this year.
And in an intriguing coincidence, the EQUATIONS report came just days before India’s Central Vigilance Commission raised concerns about corruption in projects associated with the games. As I write this, the New Indian Express reports: “Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar is understood to have asked the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee to submit details about the delays in the completion of games projects, cost overruns and deals that have attracted adverse media attention…”
Rosemary Viswanath, Chief Functionary, EQUATIONS, for one, will not be surprised by the issues the Vigilance Commission seems to have raised. She wrote to me that many of the concerns the report raises came “like worms out of the woodwork as we investigated and went deeper into the issues.”
Much of what the report raises has been spoken of earlier — the opacity surrounding the Games and their organisation including the bidding process; notions of development, identity and belonging; the displacement of people; and the use of public funds. The report also draws attention to how all these issues seem largely to be ignored or sacrificed at the altar of ‘national pride’ and ‘building a world class city’.
The EQUATIONS report, Humanity–Equality–Destiny? Implicating Tourism in the Commonwealth Games, is crystal clear on one thing though — mega events like the Commonwealth Games do little to bolster tourism. It marshals data from around the world, to substantiate its arguments. For instance, it talks about how New Zealand withdrew its support for Auckland’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games because “economic analysis had shown the loss to taxpayers on the games, even after tourism revenues had been counted, could not be justified.”
Viswanath emphasises: “We are not against the Games per se – what we are attempting is to raise issues on the processes that have been adopted and why things should have been done differently.”
One issue that EQUATIONS raises is the basis on which India’s Tourism Ministry concludes that the Games will draw 70,000-plus foreign tourists and that 40,000 hotel rooms will be required to house these visitors. “What we are saying is that the methodology adopted by Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management (Ministry of Tourism) to arrive at the figures forecasted is flawed on various counts and as this is the sole study that the MoT is relying on we are extremely sceptical of these projections,” she explains.
Yes, October is when the ‘season’ begins; when foreign tourists start arriving in India in larger numbers. But it does seem a bit of a stretch to believe that upwards of 70,000 foreign tourists will come to Delhi just for the games. This seems even more unlikely given that India’s top inbound market is the US, which has no Commonwealth ties. And though the UK and Bangladesh are the two other top inbound markets, I do wonder whether many tourists from these countries will come to India for the Games. In fact, chances are that many foreign visitors will stay away from Delhi during the Games to escape possible problems thrown up by the event.
Another issue the EQUATIONS report throws up is the frenzy with which land was allotted to build new hotels and thus create the 40,000 high-end hotel rooms Delhi supposedly needs for the games. Referring to this, Viswanath says: “Remember massive real estate linked decisions have been made based on these ‘projections’.” According to the report, of the 39 hotel sites auctioned for the Games, work on only 4 sites had been completed by April this year.
EQUATIONS also argues that the Games’ organisers have focused a bit too much on high-end hotel rooms and almost ignored budget rooms. The real demand, if at all, is likely to be for budget hotel accommodation and not high-end rooms. And not much seems to have been done at this end of the market, the report adds.
It also raises questions about how the Games’ tourism strategy will benefit small and medium tourism businesses. “Also what we argue is ‘who’ or ‘what’ consists of Indian tourism – what happens to the small and informal operators. What do they get out of this?” Viswanath asks.
The report is also fascinating reading for some of the nuggets it has dug up on the smoke and mirrors that seem to cloak the Games. For instance, the original bid documents for the Games apparently declared that once the Games are over, apartments in the Games village will be handed over to Delhi University for its use and also for use during future sporting events. The last I heard, Games Village apartments are to be sold to the public for rather nifty sums.
Similarly, the report says that plans for the Games include dedicated road lanes in Delhi for the exclusive use of those associated with the Games. And, it seems, strict penalties will be imposed on those who stray into these exclusive lanes. I could go on…
Reading the EQUATIONS report got me wondering why they’d chosen to publish it now; when little can be done to change the contours of the Games. I put this question to Viswanath and here’s what she says: “It is true we may not be able to create much of a dent in relation to the CWG, but are hopeful that the larger questions we are raising will be addressed at a later date and time, when India bids again.”
Now, that’s not too much to hope for, is it?