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Delhiites’ cynicism over the “Con-wealth Games”

The deadline is just 44 days away and Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta is upbeat – at least for the TV cameras.

“We’re 99.5% ready” he says direct to camera, which after all, is not the same as looking someone in the eye.  “We just need now to finish the ‘greening’.” The audacity of the lie causes an audible gasp from my neighbour on the right.

In October, more than 10,000 participants alone are expected in Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and they will need to be housed in a reasonable style.  Which explains the rows of cardboard wrapped furniture and plasma screen TVs. The problem is that they’re all being stored on the muddy and monsoon filled construction sites that are supposed to be – at this point in the schedule – finished apartments.

At the moment, Delhi, a city which has more cars than Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai is a Boschian bad dream.  A tangle of traffic jams and half constructed walls; a piece of giant flyover stands like a great piece of conceptual art at Ashram – the would be airborne super-highway collapsed months ago, killing several construction workers and apparently it’s under re-construction, but at the moment is just a 20 metre piece of road soaring above the ground traffic.  Concrete shells that should be apartments and stadiums are muddy construction sites of rubble and half naked construction workers listlessly dab paint on bridges as if the shiny metallic green will compensate for the fact that the backdrop could be mistaken for Grozny during the height of the war.

Vasant Kunj is a colony that was to house sports officials from around the globe – 3000 flats, more than 7000 rooms.  With the most active imagination and the faith of the true believer it would be hard to picture these half broken piles of stones, stairwells leading nowhere, rooms with one or two walls, and leaking ceilings being in any fit shape for human inhabitation anytime soon.  Every engineer on the project has officially declared the two month deadline impossible to meet.  But what is Delhi to do?  I mean it’s the Commonwealth Games 2010 – it’s not like they can just ask for a raincheck.

Insiders say that the corruption has been on a massive a scale and so blatantly shameless that exposes routinely aired on TV have done nothing to change the leadership of the project.  Suresh Kalmadi is CEO of the “CON-wealth Games” as they’ve been nicknamed by the media.  My well connected source whispers in my ear that he was especially chosen for the job because of his particular talent as a butter maker.  He can skim his milk if you catch my meaning.

Two of my insider friends have a bet going – one says that he’s sure that Kalmadi will be jailed before Gandhi’s birthday (October 2nd); the other one says for sure he’s going to be rewarded after its all over – no matter how many complaints come pouring in – because he’s so efficiently bloated the ruling party coffers.

I can’t help give you this one example: when India’s President Pratibha Patil went to London for the baton ceremony for the Games, a fictitious company was put in charge of her official visit.  The company had a long list of demands they insisted was essential for the President’s comfort including gym equipment, a personal treadmill, umbrellas, a fleet of cars.  Every item had a hugely over-rated price next to it, each more mendacious than the last;  my personal favourite is a bill for 4,500 pounds sterling - for toilet paper for her personal use.
The company was later liquidated and leaving a hole of more than 200,000 pounds in the budget here.

As I type this the breaking headlines flash on the telly – Kalmadi’s second in command T.S. Darbari, Joint Director General of the Commonwealth Organizing Committee, and Sajnay Mahendroo, the deputy Director General have just been axed over the “Baton scandal.”

Should the lower echelons of the Games organizers be quaking?  Will more lieutenants be falling on their swords, or be offered in ritual sacrifice?  How many more heads will roll over Baton ceremonies, fallen flyovers, and leaking stadiums?

I won’t be here for the Games, but I can’t help being curious about who’s going to win the Kalmadi bet.

Indians are a pretty cynical bunch when it comes to corruption of officials, but they also have faith in their own juggard – their uncanny ability to pull things together at the eleventh hour.  But I’ve been living in the punctual conscientious Netherlands for long enough now to feel that if I had any kind of responsibility for the administration of this project, I’d be spending a lot of time in the loo these days pulling at some reasonably priced toilet paper – and not because of Delhi belly - but out of sheer fear.

11 Comments on “Delhiites’ cynicism over the “Con-wealth Games””

  1. #1 David Berridge
    on Aug 16th, 2010 at 6:47 am

    This current debacle has precedent in other major sporting events, especially the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where the corruption was so bad it nearly caused the Games to be moved to Mexico City or Munich with not much time remainimg. Lord Killanin, who oversaw the Games on behalf of the Olympic committee, suffered a heart attack over the mess Montreal was undergoing. These Con-Wealth Games are doing relatively well in that no one is becoming seriously ill or in a logistical panic over transfering them to another country. Everyone at the business end of this event in Delhi is well and happy counting away the money. A sign surely that all is normal with the world of large project construction and preparation. Relax, it is only money!!

  2. #2 Manoj
    on Sep 4th, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    The Vuvuzelas are coming to India!!.
    Ya, JUST LIKE EMPTY DRUMs MAKE TOO LOUD A NOISE, WHAT’s BETTER TO COVERUP THE HOLLOWNESS IN THE CO(MMO)N WEALTH GAME’S CREDIBILITY.

  3. #3 jasmin
    on Oct 11th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    How unfounded are your fears Dheera!
    Delhi CWG 2010 are a success!
    They started extremely well and on 3 Oct. Kalmadi is still out and today handed over 3 medals to Indian women discus throwers. The gold, the silver and the bronze went to our great Indian players. It was a proud moment for us to see Tri-color flutter royally to the tune of our national anthem, as every person in the stadium was standing ‘attention’. And India is at the second place, much ahead of the DEVELOPED COUNTRIES WITH THE BEST INFRASTRUCTRE. I don’t bother what the world thinks of us, with all our faults, we are great at ‘juggards’ Do not fear, rejoice if you can/want as an Indian in the Netherlands…Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani!

  4. #4 David Berridge
    on Oct 12th, 2010 at 5:10 am

    Well, Jasmin, all sports fans salute all the athletes who have won medals at these Games. The Games on their own merits though still have significant problems however, as any athlete who has experienced “Delhi Belly”, can attest to. India has not quite succeeded in “jerry-rigging” the whole endeavour. One amusing story we heard here was that of a wayward cobra who found its way into an athlete’s room before the arrival of the competitors and had to be evicted. The poor creature might have thought he/she might have wandered into a WWF habit project! News of child labour and displacement of over 300.000 people from what precious little they have for shelter, has not been flattering for the organizers either. The abilities and purpose rendered able between the private and public sectors are light-years apart, enough for the world to see India as a multi-stage entity fragmented and disjointed, despite an enormous overall potential for great and glorious future achievements.

  5. #5 jasmin
    on Oct 12th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Ah! the cobra- well nobody but the South African official/athlete saw it. The reptiles are the inhabitants of the ‘under ground’ and can appear anywhere, uninvited and without prior information. I know it is not a matter of joke, but some things are beyond control. But I am surprised at your take of CWG, David! Delhi belly isn’t a a fault of ours. We Indians eat spicy and oily food and can digest it whereas the foreigners have different diet and come from different climates. It is not the fault of CWG that the athletes cannot digest Indian food. The Athlete village has cuisines from around the world with chefs from other countries. The athletes are free to choose what they eat, and they can eat food from stalls serving continental or Chinese food. They have access to mineral water as well. And David, it takes time to get acclimatised to a new country having a different climate/food/water. The displacement of people was done for the games. The child labour, very few cases were noticed and again it is the fault of the family who sends their kids for work, knowingly. I know, Canada, the better developed and advanced country is behind India in the medals tally despite all the negative things you find in India. Be a sport and agree that we have made it a success!

  6. #6 David Berridge
    on Oct 12th, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    What has been diagnosed of the Delhi Belly phenomenon is that it is prevelent amongst swimmers who have used the pool facilities then fall ill to the condition, not from the food, or climatic adjustments. The problems of health were not a factor in South Africa for the World Cup, nor were such outbreaks taking place in Beiging in the 2008 Olympiad. In total medals so far, Australia and England are still well ahead of both India and Canada, the latter two being only ten medals apart. Another factor being taken into account is that various sports federations had to decide practically at the last minute on whether or not to go to Delhi and this has thrown off the timetable set aside for aclimitization, adjustment to time differences, food and water, and pre-competition practice and preparation. Unlike the British, Australians, and yourselves in India, Canada is both a Winter and Summer athletic force, although less successful in the summer events. A handful of medals in these Games difference betwwen Canada and India, after being the top country in this year’s Winter Olympics, which indeed did humble the United States and Russia, as major powers, is no less than a significant achievement. That these Games got off the ground and are being held is the successful aspect of what turned out to be a relief from a logistical nightmare. In this the organizers managed a repreive from a more than suspect effort most of the way through. What are perceived to be negaive comments about India by the critics of the organization of the Games, are not about India as a country on the whole, but of the people at the top who left things dangling until the last minute. India is still admired as an amazing country, and much, perhaps too much so, had been expected along the lines of following South Africa and China. Athletics is more than about medal tallys, it is about taking the responsibilties for the overall development and participation of sport over the long term as well. These duties were run roughshod for most of the lead up to the CWG, and caused many asumptions of India’s will and commitments to sport at this level to be seriously questioned until the CWG actually got under way.

  7. #7 jasmin
    on Oct 13th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    David, the pool reports are ok. Read the report:
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/specials/sports/cwg-2010/Five-days-of-CWG-...
    The latest medals tally…;)
    Country Gold Silver Bronze
    Australia 68 45 41
    India 32 26 33
    England 30 50 42
    Canada 26 16 32

  8. #8 Mala Sujan
    on Oct 14th, 2010 at 7:34 am

    I wonder if anyone has heard about a plan for after the Games - will those unfinished accomodation facilities be completed for Deliites to live in or lay like dormant ruins? Maybe the displaced people could live there (tongue is firmly in cheek - I’m sure it will be well beyond the price bracket of people who are ‘forced to send their children to work’ as Jasmin puts it). I can say that most people I know here in Perth have watched the games avidly and every child in my son’s class seems to know the medals tally up to the minute. That’s a successful sporting event, so India did get a lot about what was initially a debacle, finally right.

  9. #9 jasmin
    on Oct 14th, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Mala Sujan, I work with the kind of people who are forced or force their kids to send their kids to school. You do not need to be sarcastic. Wish you a great life in Perth!

  10. #10 jasmin
    on Oct 14th, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Corrected:
    Mala Sujan, I work with the kind of people who are forced or force their kids to send their kids to work. You do not need to be sarcastic. Wish you a great life in Perth!

  11. #11 jasmin
    on Oct 15th, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    @Mala Sujan: Good Australians!
    Aus has expressed regret over vandalism incident: Bhanot Fri, Oct 15 05:25 PM
    New Delhi, Oct 15 (PTI) After vehemently denying their involvement, Australia has finally expressed “regret” for the alleged involvement of its athletes in damaging property at the Commonwealth Games Village and agreed to pay for it, the CWG Organising Committee said today. Reports said some Australian athletes went on rampage at Games Village out of frustration following India’s 2-0 cricket Test series win, which apparently led to an Aussie athlete being sent home for disciplinary reasons.

    The reports said the Australians also raised slogans against Indian batting icon Sachin Tendulkar, who played a pivotal role in India’s victory. Organising Committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot told PTI that Australian chef-de-mission Steve Moneghetti has expressed “regret” over the incident and agreed to pay the damage.

    “They have regretted the incident and agreed to pay for the damages. We have no further comment to make,” Bhanot said.

    Bhanot’s statement contradicts the Australian High Commission’s stand that the reports are “fantasy” and “baseless”. “It is factually wrong, insulting to Australia’s athletes and can only be described as a fantasy,” an Australian High Commission statement said here.

    However, Delhi Police confirmed that a washing machine was thrown from the eighth floor of a residential block housing Australians. Australian Commonwealth Games Association chief Perry Crosswhite confirmed that an Aussie athlete has indeed been sent home from Delhi for disciplinary reasons.

    Crosswhite, however, said he would be surprised if an Aussie is found involved in hooliganism and said athletes from other countries, who were in the Australian building at the time of the incident, could be responsible.

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