The Games They Play
EDITORIAL. J.Sri Raman. X. X.X
The Games They Play
by J. Sri Raman
opening of the 19th edition of the Commonwealth
Games in New Delhi on October 3 evening seemed to
mark the end of months-long controversies over it
by a national consensus. Or, at least, by a
consensus of those who matter in the nation. All
those stories of sordid scams appeared forgotten
and far away as the media and the middle class
settled down to watch the glittering ceremony.
Starting with a Hariharan "Swagatham" (Welcome)
and finishing off with foot-tapping A. R. Rahman
numbers, the extravaganza was complete with a
diversity of drums and an appropriate
tribute in the form of a crowded train to the "aam
admi" (common man). With the first few days
yielding quite a few golds for Indian athletes,
the screaming headlines and stinging sound bites
of earlier days have receded even farther in the
manipulated public memory.
The scandals had quite a while ago yielded place to single-point attacks on Suresh Kalmadi, our own sports czar, and his rainbow coalition of cronies. By the time of the seductive Saturday ceremony, the target had been narrowed down to Kalmadi's glaring gaps in general knowledge. His references to Abdul Kalam Azad, a hybrid of historical imagination, and an absent Princess Diana had everyone rocking with laughter, but the line was firmly drawn there. No report even mentioned his more embarrassing rhetoric about India as "rising superpower" and the New Delhi games as the best ever and anywhere.
The show will go on until October 14, by which date several issues (some hope) would have been swept under the carpet safely. Will they be?
The first of these issues, of course, alleged corruption of an astronomical scale involved in the games that, in July, were estimated to cost the country something like Rs 300 billion, the opening ceremony alone reportedly accounting for about Rs 1.5 billion, with Rs 400 million set aside for a helium balloon. No precise figures are available for the plunder of public funds that the proven use of substandard materials in constructions (which kept collapsing until almost the get-set-ready-go stage) has spelt for the tax-paying citizens.
Considering our penchant for never closing any major corruption case, will the loot ever be looked into, especially after completion of the event and a predictable period of profuse self congratulation?
Another issue, equally unlikely to be raised, is the one former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar sought to pose so unsuccessfully. His questions about a national sports policy to provide modest playgrounds to a majority of our youth, for which he did not get a fraction of the funds allotted for the glamorous games are not going to be answered. Not when the establishment busy extolling its own spectacular showmanship.
Even less heard will be the lament by lachrymose activists about the distortions in our developmental strategy, as shown up by the games. Talking of such prestigious events in better-off parts of the world, eminent British journalist Simon Jenkins says: " The Geneva centre of housing rights and evictions reckons sport to be one of the biggest displacers of humanity, perhaps second only to war. In two decades some 2 million people have had to make way for Olympic stadiums and 'villages'...." He also speaks of "a cartel of architects, building contractors, security consultants and publicists, practised at holding to ransom cities who find themselves hosting summit conferences and sports extravaganzas....."
On the country heading the Commonwealth, he says: "Each gold medal Britain won in the Beijing Olympics reportedly cost the taxpayer £12m. There can be no other state activity that dares such presumption. No arts activity, no theatre or rock festival, no adventure project or charitable fund-raiser would demand such colossal subsidy. The nearest parallel in cost per week is probably the military invasion of a foreign state, on which the last Labour governments were equally keen."
The outlook of India's elite and establishment are even more outrageous, considering the country's poverty. The Indian people cannot hope for more than a pitifully low percentage of the resources, squandered on showpieces and unaffordable arms races, for projects and programmes catering to their fundamental needs.
We all wish our sportspersons well and more medals. But, if the games fail to provoke any debate on any of these issues, the dispensers of India's destiny will surely deserve a gold for insensitivity.