Sunday, January 30, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Was Spending on the Commonwealth Games justified?

Sushil Kumar battled injury and odds as he grappled with Heinrich Barnes for the Gold. He was warned,twice, by the referee for dangerous gripping. Finally, he had to pin down Barnes for over 25 seconds before the referee was convinced  and declared Sushil Kumar the winner.

 India too had to battle insult and injury before it could pin down the detractors of the Games.  Micheal Fennel, the Commonwealth Games chief, too decided that he had seen enough to be convinced to declare that Delhi had delivered “truly exceptional Games”.

So, was the expenditure of Rs.11,000 crores ($ 2.4 billion  ) on just  the Games facilities - and total cost of  Rs.  77,000 crores ( $ 17 billion) on the Games plus the allied infrastructure -  justified?

Seeking justification for this spending is akin to seeking justification for the Chandrayaan – I which failed after less than a year in space against its intended two years. It is also like  questioning the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), in the face of the CAG finding serious irregularities in its implementation, on which about $ 6 billion is expected to be spent annually.  

China spent over $ 40 billion to hold the Olympic Games. Their Games too was marred with corruption, coercion and controversy. However, the only lasting image the world has of those Games are the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies and of its ability to hold events of this magnitude.

The puerile argument against holding these Games is that funds can be used to address other issues like poverty. However poverty, unemployment and gender inequality are problems which will take several decades of high economic growth to address. Till then, we need to look at the low hanging fruits like Sporting Excellence, Literacy and progress in Science and Technology.  Indian space research was    born with its first Sounding Rocket in 1963. It went on to launch its first Satellite in 1975. Since then, India has been in the vanguard of nations in space research.  ISRO’s annual budget of $1.25 billion could also be spent on poverty alleviation programs. However, as a $ 1 trillion economy we need to budget for all activities which push the boundaries of our abilities.

Indian sports currently need a rallying point. We need to believe that we can compete with the best and win.  We need poster boys in every discipline who will fire the imagination of the boys and girls of today to take up sports as a full time profession. The achievement of some of our athletes in the recent past is leading us to that. The thunderous applause which is normally reserved only for Sachin Tendulkar  was showered on Sushil Kumar when he entered the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex. Vijender Singh’s posters now give MS Dhoni company by gracing teenage walls. A son of a bus driver, this Bhiwani boxer singlehandedly drew a crowd to the boxing ring at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium.

It's not just sports which has benefited from these Games. Delhi’s Terminal 3 and its supporting infrastructure is to a business traveler what the  Talkatora Stadium  is to a  boxer. The fast-tracked Delhi Metro actually makes traveling across Delhi and Gurgaon a pleasure.

The  Delhi Commonwealth Games have created an enthusiasm for a broad spectrum of sports. The Thyagaraja Sports Complex, venue for the Netball competition, is also India’s first Green stadium. The Velodrome at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex is comparable to the best in the world. The refurbished and modern Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex could well be the fulcrum on which the resurgent Indian sports will revolve. With this new infrastructure, India has taken a big leap as its initial step in becoming a sporting superpower.

Just as in Olympia, a flute was played to help Long Jumpers  coordinate the proper execution of the  jump  - our brand new infrastructure will help in coordinating our leap to cover the greatest distance possible.

Taint and corruption are not what we must remember these games for. We must remember these games as that point in time which changed the course of India’s sporting history. Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 Olympics, described the Delhi Commonwealth Games as "potentially the moment that could change the course of athletics in Asia, the moment that could inspire thousands of people who'd never even seen athletics track before to get involved". This illustrates the importance of not losing sight of the big picture. As Lord Coe said: "To build a truly global capacity in sport, you have to take it round the world - out of your own backyard. That means taking risks and facing challenges, but it has to be done."

Let’s take China’s example. After having spent over $ 40 billion on the 2008 Olympic Games, for the Asian Games at Guangzhou in November 2010 the total official tab is over $ 17 billion. This is about how much it costs to hold an international sporting event of this magnitude. China is holding XVI Asiad within a little over 2 years of the Beijing Olympics having spent, officially, over $ 57 billion on both these events.

While India has improved it ranking considerably over its 2006 performance at Melbourne of 50 medals – our performance does not score well on other parameters. For example, India won just one medal per $ 12 billion of GDP and  11 million of population.

Athletes from Haryana, which is infamous for its Honour Killings, Khap Dictats, and Female Feticide won India 27 of its 101 medals.  Eleven of these medals were won by its women athletes. Given Haryana’s investment in sporting infrastructure, we will have many more winners from Haryana in future. This may trigger social change against such ills.  Deepika Kumari’s Mango to Recurve Bow saga will surely inspire others in Jharkhand to hone their skill at orchards before taking up Archery.

Kabaddi , which means  ‘holding of breath’, was a demonstration sport at the Games.  It was also demonstrated by the nation as it held its breath while its raiders took on the opposition and returned with 101 medals.

India is at an inflexion point in its growth as major global power. From here on, it is not only how we project ourselves to the world but how the world interprets these projections. As Shakespeare would have said – “There's a time in the affairs to men, which when taken at the flood leads on to good fortune”. 

After all the negative publicity that the Games Village got during the run-up to the event – athletes like English Sprinter Mark Lewis Francis  were unanimous in their praise for the luxurious Games Village rooms and facilities like Salons and Bars and Polyclinic. When the finicky Australian team finally moved into the Games Village its Chef de Mission Steve Moneghetti was constrained to say “I am pleasantly surprised at the facilities”. Those who were not impressed with the rooms were snared with the food.

Delhiite’s behavioral change during the games is not a less important aspect of the staging of the Games. Crime rate came down by 47% during the Games. There was a distinct improvement in road discipline. The number of Challans issued daily came down from 3,000 to 2,400.

The motto of these Games was “Come out and play” which is what India did. Its 101 medals ensured that it was money well spent.