India’s hosting of the upcoming Commonwealth Games were intended to be a major boost to national pride - a sort of international coming out party to rival Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics. Instead, the games now risk being a national debacle.
New Delhi formally inaugurated the main stadium this week. But with 67 days to go, India’s capital is still racing against time - and the monsoon rains - to finish all the sports venues, roads, parking lots, and transportation infrastructure - including a rail link from the sports village to the main venues.
Some of the already completed venues were apparently done so shoddily that they have already suffered damage from the rains. In the scramble to meet the deadline, most other work is also being done in such a slapdash manner that it is likely to already be in a state of advanced decay before the games are over. Indian companies have been slow to agree to sponsor the event, fearing their own brand could be tarnished. Adding to the sense of looming disappointment, many top athletes, including runner Usain Bolt, have already pulled out.
India is officially spending around $2.2bn to host the games, though unofficially experts estimate the investment will actually be three times that much, drawing from funds from other parts of its budget. Now - before the games even start, Indians are starting a nasty debate over whether its been worth it.
Equations, a Bangalore-based non-governmental organisation focused on equitable, sustainable tourism that benefits local communities, has just issued a report slamming the government’s official estimate that the games would draw nearly 140,000 visitors to the city as grossly exaggerated.
It also said the games had been used as a brazen excuse for land-grabbing and dislocating Delhi’s poor. “Massive infrastructure investments for mega sporting events….seems to be a method to transfer resources to lobbies of realtors and power-elite in the name of sports,” the group said in a statement
Criticism is also coming from closer to home. Mani Shankar Aiyer, a Congress party member of the upper house of Parliament, told reporters this week that the games are a huge waste of money in a country where few children have any opportunity to participate in, or play, sports - despite an ostensible national policy of sports for all.
“Imagine if we would have spent (the money) in providing training to children - we would have won medals in every international sporting event,” he said.