Chris Laidlaw: Host societies have to pay well into future

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What is it about hosting rights that always brings out the worst in the hosts? The Commonwealth Games have certainly brought out the worst in India, just as the Fifa World Cup has effectively guaranteed that poverty will be permanently on the backburner in South Africa.

Athens is in hock and will be for decades as the price of hosting the 2004 Olympics.

Sydney is stuck with the gigantic white elephant of Stadium Australia which hosts the odd footy match but not much else and which Sydney ratepayers will be subsidising until it is pulled down.

Other hosts of big sporting events have had to swallow very hard when the bills come in. All you are left with is the faint glow of satisfaction at having made it temporarily on to the world map and the always wildly exaggerated claims of national income that flows from such events.

Even Montreal, which hosted the Olympics in 1976, has only just paid off that debt. Canadians still wince even at the mention of the Olympics which were rendered even more financially farcical when most of the Africans and a few others didn't show up because of New Zealand's dalliance with South African rugby.

In all these cities, there are continuing recriminations over the massive amounts of money it takes to secure a few fleeting moments of national pride for a society. I say 'society' because it is the people who bear the burden of the bills. In some countries, that doesn't matter much.

Beijing didn't need to ask permission of its citizens to have the Olympics. It doesn't make a habit of asking its citizens anything. And it is very good at moving anybody who gets in the way. But the people paid for the 2008 Olympics and will be for some time yet.

The people of India clearly weren't all that interested in hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Probably for good reason.

The Games, sadly, are a tired remnant of a tired organisation.

The Friendly Games even had smiles in short supply as they stuttered like an aging Bentley into life this week. The most notable feature was the absence of Indians.

With so many people and an exploding middle class, you would have thought Indians would have been fighting over tickets.

No such luck. They are staying away in droves. It isn't the ticket prices. They are relatively modest and, like luxury goods in a recession, are coming down all the time. Even the absence of stars such as Usain Bolt doesn't make much difference.

The plain fact is that Indians aren't interested unless it's cricket. The fact that the Indian cricket authorities decided to schedule test matches featuring the Indian team at the same time as the Commonwealth Games says it all. By and large, Indians don't have any interest in many of the Games sports.

Even hockey, once a prestigious Indian sport, is being played in front of vast crowds of absentees. They can't sell tickets and now they are giving them away.

What does all this mean for India? Little more than embarrassment, really. Having laid out trillions of rupees in order to showcase Delhi as the next biggest kid on the Asian block after China, the Indian political and business leaders who have most to gain or lose have been mortally embarrassed by the shambles that characterised the beginning of the games.

I feel very sorry for the chap on the organising committee who explained perfectly rationally that Indian standards of hygiene might not be the same as those in the western health-obsessed democracies but that, as the Games were in India, the visitors would be better advised to stop complaining and get used to it. He has presumably been sent to border patrol in Kashmir for his candour as the politicians took over the rapidly deteriorating public relations.

Will India regret having hosted these Commonwealth Games? All those who have been shunted out of the way in Delhi in order to keep the imagery right will no doubt regret it but they won't be heard, just as their counterparts in Beijing or Johannesburg weren't.

- Herald on Sunday

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