Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games – thank God it’s over

In the history of multigames sports competitions there may not be a bigger waste of time and money then the Commonwealth Games. The 2010 Commonwealth Games which ended in New Delhi Thursday were an abomination against what was a once proud athletic competition. If nothing else – the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi Games were plagued with a multitude of embarrassments that cast a negative light on the world’s largest democracy and with any luck will place the future of the Commonwealth Games at death’s door.

From monkeys and snakes found in the athletes village, to millions of unsold tickets and sponsorship revenue falling well short of stated goals, the 2010 Commonwealth Games New Delhi Games were a preverbal “dogs breakfast”.

Reverend Ashley Cooper was the first person to propose the idea of having a Pan-Britannic sporting contest to foster a spirit of goodwill and understanding within the British Empire. In 1928, a key Canadian athlete, Bobby Robinson, was given the task of organizing the first ever Commonwealth Games. These Games were held in 1930, in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and saw the participation of 400 athletes from eleven countries.

Since then, the Commonwealth Games have been held every four years, except for the period during the Second World War. The Games have been known by various names such as the British Empire Games, Friendly Games and British Commonwealth Games. But since 1978, they have been known as the Commonwealth Games. Originally having only single competition sports, the 1998 Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur saw a major change when team sports such as cricket, hockey and netball made their first appearance.

In 2001, the Games Movement adopted the three values of Humanity, Equality and Destiny as the core values of the Commonwealth Games. These values inspire and connect thousands of people and signify the broad mandate for holding the Games within the Commonwealth.

After the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is the second largest sports festival in the world. The Games are held once in four years but only in between the Olympic years. The Games have been held in many cities including: 10th Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974, the 11th in Edmonton (Canada) in 1978, the 12th in Brisbane (Australia) in 1982, the 13th in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1986, the 14th in Auckland (New Zealand) in 1990 and the 15th in Victoria (Canada) in 1994, where about 3,350 athletes from a record 64 nations (including South Africa, which joined the family of Commonwealth athletes after 36 years) participated. Namibia also, which gained its independence in 1990, made its debut while Hong Kong made its final appearance in the Games before being ceded to China in 1997.

How and why did a pretty good idea started by a Canadian go so wrong over the last few weeks in New Delhi? The challenges the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi faced were known long before the opening ceremonies were held on October 3.

The Commonwealth Games has been severely criticized by several prominent Indian politicians and social activists because billions of dollars have been spent on the sporting event despite the fact that India has one of the world's largest concentrations of poor people.

Additionally, several other problems related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games have been highlighted by Indian investigative agencies and media outlets. These include — serious corruption by officials of the Games Organising Committee, delays in the construction of main Games venues, infrastructural compromise, possibility of a terrorist attacks and exceptionally poor ticket sales.

Miloon Kothari, a leading Indian expert on socio-economic development, remarked that the 2010 Commonwealth Games will create "a negative financial legacy for the country" and asked "when one in three Indians lives below the poverty line and 40% of the hungry live in India, when 46% of India's children and 55% of women are malnourished, does spending billions of dollars on a 12-day sports event build national pride or is it a matter of national shame?"

One of the outspoken critics of the Games is Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Indian Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports. In April 2007, Aiyar commented that the Games are "irrelevant to the common man" and criticized the Indian government for sanctioning billions of dollars for the Games even though India requires massive investment in social development programs. In July 2010, he remarked that he would be "unhappy if the Commonwealth Games are successful".

One of India's most cherished businessmen, Azim Premji, called the 2010 Commonwealth Games a "drain on public funds" and said that hosting the high-expense Games in India is not justified given that the country had more important priorities facing it, such as education, infrastructure and public health.

Earlier this week Bloomberg Media reported the biggest sporting event held in India in more than 30 years failed at generating sponsorship revenue. The 12-day event in New Delhi won sponsorships worth about 3.8 billion rupees ($85 million), compared with the aim of 9.6 billion rupees, Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the Organizing Committee said in a written reply to questions.

The government spent $4.6 billion upgrading stadiums, refurbishing roads, building overpasses, and power and water utilities to stage the games that are held every four years.

The games’ organizers have also struggled to fill stadiums. About 1 million tickets were sold as of Oct. 12, from an initial target of 1.7 million, said Lalit Bhanot, secretary general at the Organising Committee.

The Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006 attracted eight major partners including BHP Billiton Ltd., Qantas Airways Ltd. and National Australia Bank Ltd. The second tier of 15 sponsors included Cadbury Schweppes, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Konica Minolta Holdings Inc.

“I’m not surprised they have fallen short of investors,” said Unni Krishnan, managing director at the Indian unit of consultant Brand Finance Plc. “It was all conducted in such a shoddy fashion that it doesn’t inspire trust among stakeholders.”

Anticipating success in hosting large scale events such as the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) stated that "Delhi would bid for the 2020 Olympics."

Sports minister Manohar Singh Gill later stated that funding infrastructure would come before a 2020 bid. Jacques Rogge has expressed his willingness for Delhi to bid for the games.

As the Games ended Thursday, Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) President Mike Fennell did what men like Fennell do best – they ignored the obvious and did their best to ‘spin’ a very different trick of the tail as to what really took place in New Delhi.

"The feedback we have received has been very positive and we are pleased the athletes have expressed how happy they are in Delhi," said Fennell.

"Despite the worries, the security and the police force have done a fantastic job in policing the city and the volunteers have been most helpful and friendly."

"I felt some of the trivial things received more attention than they should have done but it was important to expose some of the fundamental issues and it helped," he said.

"When these were exposed in the media, this helped us to get action going in certain areas and I say that very sincerely.

"But I would be less than frank if I said some of the minor reports did not help because the public does not understand the dynamics of organisation."

And what are some of the so called “trivial issues” the esteemed president of the Commonwealth Games referred too, other than the lack of ticket sales and sponsorship revenues?

Campaigners in India have accused the organizers of enormous and systematic violations of labour laws at construction sites. Human Rights Law Network reported that independent investigations have discovered more than 70 cases where workers have died in accidents at construction sites since work began.

Although official numbers have not been released, it is estimated that over 415,000 contract daily wage workers are working on Games projects. Unskilled workers are paid 85 (US$1.9) to 100 (US$2.3) per day while skilled workers are paid 120 (US$2.7) to 130 (US$2.9) INR per day for eight hours of work. Workers also stated that they are paid 134 (US$3) to 150 (US$3.4) for 12 hours of work (eight hours plus four hours of overtime). Both these wages contravene the stipulated Delhi state minimum wage of 152 (US$3.4) for eight hours of work. Nearly 50 construction workers have died in the past two years while employed on Games projects.

There have been documented instances of the presence of young children at hazardous construction sites, due to a lack of child care facilities for women workers living and working in the labour camp style work sites.

Workers on the site of the main Commonwealth stadium reportedly were issued hard hats, yet most worked in open-toed sandals and live in cramped tin tenements in which illnesses were the order of the day. The High Court of Delhi is currently hearing a public interest petition relating to employers not paying employees for overtime and it has appointed a four-member committee to submit a report on the alleged violations of workers rights.

During the construction of the Games Village, there was controversy over financial mismanagement, profiteering by the Delhi Development Authority and private real estate companies, and additional inhumane working conditions.

CNN broadcast evidence showing children, as young as seven, being used in the construction of the game venues. According to Siddharth Kara, who provided CNN with the evidence, he managed to document 14 cases of child labor within a few days. In reply to a question whether it could have been just a case of kids being present at the construction site along with their parents, he replied: "It's not just kids playing in the dirt or using a hammer as a toy." He further stated about the kids: "They're told to do the work and they just do the work. They don't know that they should be in school or that they should be playing."

Even though the New Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit claimed that nobody had approached her, according to CNN, they had tried to contact her as far back as July 23, 2010. In spite of repeated attempts, according to them, no official reply was ever made.

On September 21, 2010, a footbridge under construction for the Games near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium collapsed, injuring at least 23 people. Most of who were workers, underscoring fears of poor workmanship. Commenting on the incident, Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit, controversially remarked that the footbridge was only meant for spectators and not for athletes. Following the collapse, Fennell expressed concern that conditions at the Games Village, which had "shocked the majority", would seriously compromise the entire event. The company that was building the foot bridge, P&R Infraprojects, has since been blacklisted by the Delhi Government and will not be allowed to bid on government contracts.

Progress was slow on four or five of the athlete accommodation towers built by Emaar at the Games village. As the Games began, parts of the village remained unfinished, lacking amenities such as wireless internet, fitted toilets and plumbing. In addition, rubble, unused masonry and discarded bricks littered the unfinished gardens.

According to sports historian, Boria Majumdar, author of the Sellotape Legacy: Delhi and the Commonwealth Games, India "may have to pull a miracle." The father of Australian track cyclist Kaarle McCulloch visited his daughter at the Games village. A builder in Australia, Grahame McCulloch criticized the structural soundness of the village; he said "those buildings are the dodgiest things I have ever substandard". He told his daughter not to use the balcony, fearing that it was collapsible.

On September 22, 2010, part of the drop ceiling of the new Commonwealth Games weightlifting venue in New Delhi collapsed.

Indian bantamweight boxer Akhil Kumar's bed in the Games village collapsed when he sat on it. "I sat down on my bed to rest but suddenly it gave way. After that I noticed that part of it has no plywood,” he said

On September 27, 2010, a South African athlete reported that a snake was present in his room in the Games Village. A day earlier, animal authorities had to be called in to evacuate a king cobra from the tennis venue.

And that is only a small sampling of the litany of an event that thankfully and finally ended Thursday. What if anything was learnt from this charade? Awarding major sports events to India must never happen again. History should send the International Olympic Committee a clear and concise message – NEVER consider awarding the 2020 Olympic Games to India.

As for the future of the Commonwealth Games, the Games did succeed in shining a terrible light on what was once a respected event. The damage to the reputation of the Commonwealth Games will not be fully known for many years but the next time a global sponsor is pitched the Commonwealth Games, whoever is doing the selling had better realize the aftermath of the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games will be at the forefront of any conversation.

For this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: Wikipedia, Bloomberg Media,

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