Commonwealth Games: Debacle limping to close

By Andrew Alderson

Delhi has let itself down with the Commonwealth Games. The layers of inefficient bureaucracy that plague Indian life have been replicated wherever you look.

The Games are battling on but look certain to limp to a flaccid end, no matter what diplomatic comments come from CGF president Mike Fennell at the closing ceremony.

At the midway point these Games have failed on too many fronts. It would take a spectacular reversal of momentum through an event like a Filbert Bayi/John Walker 1500m world record to turn things around. That is bad news for a flailing Games struggling to justify its existence. Tickets have not sold, stadiums have been empty and no merchandise is available to buy, let alone visible on the streets. Delhi is not recouping many of its expenses.

It is not as if tickets are prohibitively priced. They come as low as 50 rupees ($1.50) and the organising committee says 40 per cent of them sell for less than 200 rupees ($6). The Times of India estimated the average Indian income at 44,000 rupees ($1300) last year so they should still be moving over the counter for such a rare experience.

The secretary-general of the organising committee, Lalit Bhanot, offered the Herald on Sunday an unbelievable version of how the Games have unfolded.

"At most venues all the tickets are sold out," he said. "Only a few places have tickets still available. Rugby is sold out, as are big matches like India v Pakistan in the men's hockey.

"We had 30,000 [out of a possible 60,000] attend the athletics last night. The boxing has almost been full as has the gymnastics and the hockey.

"Tickets are being sold rapidly. In the last day [Thursday] we sold 100,000. Now we have sold 900,000 of the 1.4 million tickets available."

Bhanot was questioned on the validity of his claims but remained adamant, brushing away the lack of spectators on the first few days: "Indians are more interested in finals, most of those are sold out," he said.

Such a claim buys him more time before we can judge - but it can't explain the lack of spectators on the nights he talks about with such authority. Journalists estimated the track and field had a maximum of 10,000 present when he said it was half full. There is photographic and eyewitness proof the gymnastics and hockey have been virtually empty.

Indian people have more important things to do, like going about their daily lives. The Games seem a distraction, despite the national ambition for the country to be in the frame for the 2020 or 2024 Olympics.

At this point they'd be lucky to get them in 2120, despite IOC president Jacque Rogge turning up and pronouncing the event "a very good foundation stone to think about the possible conduct of the traditional [Olympic] Games."

As one Indian journalist noted about cycling and the purpose-built velodrome: "Government involvement meant it wasn't completed for a long time. It is also hard to contemplate the value of a velodrome. India has no cycling tradition so it will be a waste after the Games."

That begs the question what will happen to other venues when teams pack their suitcases after October 14. The Government owns all but the lawn tennis centre but it is thought the stadiums will be leased to corporations.

It is understood the likes of Mukesh Ambani, owner of Reliance Industries - the largest private enterprise in India and the richest man in Asia - might be keen to take the initiative. Corporates like Hero Honda and Sahara could be others. Many Indians believe such companies would run the venues better than the Government because private industries are seen as more accountable. Local journalists have expressed disappointment that was not the case to start.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Olympic Committee president Mike Stanley says the scale of the Games further enforce his point, made in this newspaper a fortnight ago, that the size needs to be scaled back so smaller countries among the 71 members can host rather than predominantly leaving it to Canada, Britain and Australia.

"You have to take your hat off to Delhi in terms of scale but that is an intimidating level to produce in smaller countries. They are impressive venues but none [of the ones I've been in] have been full. Maybe they were slightly over spec-ed and the extent of the security has made them more difficult to access.

"We need cities the size of Auckland and the [2018 bidders] Gold Coast to host," Stanley says. "They could use already built facilities, scaled more appropriately."

Stanley says Delhi has been forced into screening techniques outside the average person's comfort zone.

"The venues are so tightly controlled it has taken away that celebration feel when athletes succeed and their countrymen cheer. There is not the same passionate, spontaneous local interest to bring colour and life to the event.

"It is a product of the central government pressure around security concerns. That also makes it difficult for locals to interact with visitors. But walk around Delhi and you only find helpfulness."

- Herald on Sunday

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