Games Marred by Scams and Shoddiness
Indian Army soldiers prepare iron structures as they reconstruct a collapsed foot overbridge outside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the main Commonwealth Games venue, in New Delhi.
The corruption and scandal-ridden run-up to the New Delhi Commonwealth Games has attracted adverse publicity internationally and placed a question mark over Indians' capability to deliver.
On the eve of the 19th Commonwealth Games, Delhi is on edge. The run-up to the October 3-14 Games has the hosts in panic while foreign guests entertain second thoughts about participation.
The authorities repeatedly recite the all-is-well mantra, which actually convinces no one, given the monumental evidence of bungling and misdirection. Admittedly, no one could be blamed for the fury of nature. It is taking a big toll, what with the Yamuna flowing well above the danger mark and flooding low-lying areas, forcing evacuation in a number of poor colonies. Sewage flows back even in several middle-class colonies due to the rise in the river waters.
Most thoroughfares are cratered by a record rainfall this late in the monsoon cycle. Worse, there is a dengue and bird flu/H1N1 viral scare in the city, thanks to the inordinate rise in the mosquito population during the rainy season. While there can be no control over the elements, it is the man-made crisis that has most Delhiites worried stiff.
Having undertaken to host the Games, the organisers seem to have only competed with one another in creating a mess and a still bigger mess. Though only a few days remain before the inauguration of the Games, all Games-related projects are far from ready. Working against the clock, however, has its own hazards. Notice the mishaps of only the last couple of days.
Security issues came to the fore when two men on a motorcycle fired at foreign visitors in the vicinity of the historic Jama Masjid in old Delhi on September 19 morning. Two members of a Taiwanese television crew were injured, one seriously.
Within minutes, a car laden with a crude explosive device caught fire nearby. Police later claimed that the car bomb was meant to target media crews who had rushed to the spot following the firing on the foreign visitors. The shooting incident heightened fears of security of the visiting athletes, even though the authorities claimed that they had put in place a foolproof system for their safety.
A day later, a footbridge under construction near the main Games venue collapsed, injuring 20-odd labourers, five critically. In typical fashion, the incident was underplayed, with delhi chief Minister Shiela Dikishit claiming that the bridge was not meant for Games participants or VIPs.
The next day brought a far bigger blow, this time from none other than the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Michael Fennell, who said the Games Village, which will serve as home to foreign contingents throughout the Games, was “unlivable”.
Representatives of two other foreign teams found the conditions “filthy” and “unhygienic” with “stray dogs wandering around, stains on the walls, human excrement and stinking toilets”.
The stinker left everyone shell-shocked since no expense had been spared on the construction and furnishing of the fancy flats in the Village, which are set to be sold to the public after the Games at more than US$300 per sq ft.
That was not all. A day later, the false ceiling in the weightlifting venue within the main Nehru Stadium complex collapsed, injuring a couple of workers. Worse, an Australian television crew flashed news how it had penetrated the security ring in the main venue by smuggling in a case for explosives with a detonator right under the eyes of the police.
The TV crew claimed it had procured the case for the explosives and the detonator from the underground arms bazaar in the few short hours it had been in the capital. The police, however, denied their claims.
Even as the bad news poured from the skies - it hasn't rained this hard in September in a long time - and from the Games organisers, a number of top athletes announced their pullout. Discus world champion Dani Samuels of Australia and world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu of England declined to participate on account of health and security concerns.
Earlier, quadruple Olympic gold medalist Chris Holy, triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt, and Kenyan sprinter David Rudisha had dropped out. Readers of this column would recall that the Games controversy began with reports of financial wheeling-dealing by key officials of the organising committee.
Negative publicity led at least a couple of public sector companies to withdraw their sponsorship. Concerns about the haphazard preparations and unconscionable delays obliged the Prime Minister to take charge. Senior officials of the PMO and various ministries were tasked with the orderly completion of the Games-related projects.
Yet, the mishaps of the last couple of days have shaken the confidence of the people in the organisers. Indeed, the common refrain in the media and among the people is that the Games is a “cash-and-carry” operation, with everyone associated with it from politicians and officials to contractors and suppliers making money hand-over-fist.
It is extraordinary that the expenditure on the Games has shot up as much as 114 times - yes, 114 times - from the original allocation. Small wonder, then, ordinary people are cursing the Games.
A city where traffic crawls ordinarily is in for a bigger mess on its roads because a lane on either side in large parts of the capital has been earmarked exclusively for Games-related vehicles. Typically, neither the domestic media nor the organisers have noted the preparation, if any, by the Indian athletes who would compete in the Games.
Without doubt the damage done to the country's honour and prestige is immense. The Games were meant to showcase a new and confident India and focus on the rise of Delhi as a modern world-class metropolis.
Of course, the Games will still be held. But the excitement and honour will be missing from the proceedings due to the odour of scandal and shoddiness. Indians were short-changed by those entrusted to showcase their country.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010