The snafu-hit Commonwealth Games were never a priority for UPA-I, changing sports ministers not helping the matter. A page from the book of LA Olympics, 1984, organiser Peter Ueberroth could have eased the pain of IOA chief. The entrepreneur first generated funds for the games, convinced boycotters to participate, and made a $215-m profit.
The acronym snafu — situation-normal all fouled up — sums up the status of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, scheduled to open on October 3. With the deadline for handing over the different stadia and the Games village being extended to August 31, there is a palpable sense of frenzied desperation to get everything completed by then, a mood reinforced by televised images of incomplete stadia, leaking roofs, seeping walls and debris.
Media reports of a young diver injuring herself while trying out the facilities will not exactly inspire confidence among international champions who would already be wondering whether winning even a gold medal at Delhi is worth it.
A Commonwealth gold need not be equivalent to even an Olympic bronze since sporting powerhouses like the US, Russia, China and Germany will not be participating. Which explains why 10 international sports champs will skip the New Delhi Games, starting with the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt.
The New Delhi Games could even end up becoming a case study on how not to host a major sporting event. New Delhi’s bid to host the 19th Commonwealth Games was accepted in 2003 when the BJP-led NDA coalition government was ruling India. The commitment to hosting the Games appeared to be diluted from the summer of 2004 itself when the Congress-led UPA formed the national government.
The UPA’s sports ministers — first Bollywood actor Sunil Dutt and then the diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar —did not seem to be that enthusiastic about hosting the Games, with the latter questioning the rationale behind spending thousands of crores of rupees of taxpayer funds on a mega sporting event when there were other priorities.
Mr Aiyar’s proposal that the work on the Games be supervised by a special apex committee was not accepted and he was replaced as sports minister in 2008 with M S Gill, a bureaucrat who had served as the country’s Chief Election Commissioner. Different agencies were then entrusted with the responsibility of building the stadia.
In short, no one seems to be in overall charge and the confusion we see today is a reflection of non-stop bickering over the last 5-6 years between the sports ministry and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) headed by Suresh Kalmadi. The government of India and the IOA could have learnt something from the successful staging of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics despite the decision by the city of LA not to spend a cent of municipal funds on the event.
In 1978, the US Olympic Committee accepted the recommendations of a headhunting firm and appointed Peter Ueberroth, a very successful 41-year-old business entrepreneur, to take charge of the LA Games. Ueberroth’s strategy was to first generate funds and he started by organising a one-shot blind-bid auction for the TV rights to the LA Olympics.
He was advised that this would not generate more than $150 million but ABC won the TV rights with a bid of $225 million. Ueberroth then pruned the number of sponsors to 30 so as to give it a touch of exclusivity that would persuade individual corporate sponsors to shell out much more, the minimum being $4 million.
Just two months before the LA Olympics was to begin, the Soviet Union announced that it would be boycotting the event, something that was always on the cards after the Western nations had boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the wake of the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Ueberroth sent envoys to China and East Germany and himself visited Havana where he persuaded Fidel Castro not to influence other countries in the region to boycott the LA Games even though Cuba had to follow the Russian lead. Ueberroth also persuaded Romania to participate after meeting its Olympic officials in Switzerland. The first privately-funded Olympic Games generated a surplus of $215 million, mainly due to Ueberroth’s inspirational leadership.
The LA Olympics project office was a converted helicopter factory and all staffers were required to lunch together in the canteen that had been set up in a disused aircraft hangar. As Ueberroth told Time magazine, “We felt the responsibility of the country was at stake.
It was frightening… In the US, there is a spark of can-do, can-work, can-accomplish — you can do things without being on the government dole.” He was Time’s Man Of The Yearfor 1984.
Mr Kalmadi could logically argue that, unlike the US, it is only cricket that excites India’s fans and sponsors. If so, the government of India should give full freedom for private initiative while stepping in at the right time when there is a breach of the law. The IPL is a case in point.
By intervening only after Lalit Modi’s tweet on the involvement of Union minister Tharoor in the Kochi franchise, the government of India has given the unfortunate impression that its action was motivated not so much by public interest as by ministerial pique.
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