Cutting it fine

The main venue... Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Sports Minister M. S. Gill during the inauguration of the renovated Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The stadium was remodelled at a cost of Rs. 961 crore.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Projects missing deadline after deadline, escalation of costs, compromising with the quality of material or expertise in the hurry to meet renewed deadlines… This's been the sad tale of India's preparation for the Commonwealth Games, scheduled to begin in New Delhi on October 3. By Rakesh Rao.

For nearly seven years after India won the bid to host the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the indifference of the common man towards the 71-nation multi-discipline event was quite apparent. In fact, ever since the Games got into the news for all the wrong reasons — beginning from some glaring flaws pertaining to the test events and construction of the facilities to the growing allegations of corruption in various deals — the nation has been rubbing its eyes in disbelief. The question most frequently asked is: whether these Games, costing in excess of Rs. 35,000 crore, are worth it?

With the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) putting 16 projects under its scanner and handing over one of the cases to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI); two senior members of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee suspended on suspicion of indulging in corrupt practices and its treasurer Anil Khanna resigning on “moral grounds” with less than two months to go for the Games, India has done its reputation no good.

Since 2003, even as the Capital got all the attention of the authorities at various levels to make it a “world class city,” worthy of matching the efforts of the two previous hosts Manchester (2002) and Melbourne (2006), the upcoming Games did not exactly excite the entire nation. Barring construction of the additional lines of the Metro Rail, every other Games-related project remained a non-starter until 2007, and some even till 2008. The construction or re-modelling of the stadiums began at least four years after the actual allotment of the Games to the country.

Going by the official figures, upgrading work on the Rs. 262-crore National Stadium (for hockey), the Rs. 669-crore Indira Gandhi Stadium (for gymnastics) and the Rs. 377-crore Shyama Prasad Mukherjee complex (for aquatics) were the first projects to start in 2007. The work on seven other projects, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (for athletics, Opening and Closing ceremonies) — remodelled at a cost of Rs. 961 crore — started in 2008, while the facility for Lawn Bowl within the stadium complex and construction of the velodrome in the Indira Gandhi Stadium complex started only in 2009.

Total apathy...debris strewn outside the weightlifting stadium at the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex.-AP

Not surprisingly, almost every project missed deadline after deadline. The delay meant cost escalation, and the hurry to meet renewed deadlines only led to compromising with quality of material or expertise used.

The series of ‘Test' events for various disciplines increasingly brought to the fore the lack of preparedness of the venues, not so much in terms of logistics and technical capabilities. In fact, officials from most federations confided that they could have handled their ‘Test' events better, but the involvement of grossly inexperienced officials from various sections of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee left them helpless.

In fact, the main purpose of holding these ‘Test' events was to assess the preparedness of the venues, officials and the equipments to be used during the event. However, on these counts, most events fell short of expectations though not entirely for the lack of organising skills of each federation. Barring the incomplete facility, the non-availability of the equipment to be used during the Games was the main reason for federations not being able to gain the most from the ‘Test' events.

The ‘Test' event for archery was the first to bring to focus the far-from-complete Yamuna Sports Complex. The officials of the Archery Association of India (AAI) had to plead with the civic authorities to complete at least one rest-room each for the men and women participants in addition to laying the approach road from the main gate of the complex to the Grandstand.

A groundsman clears the rain water from the athletics track at the renovated Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

In a face-saving effort, patches of grass were placed on an otherwise bald Field of Play (FoP) to give it a green look. Fearing that the grass patches would come off during the event, the organisers requested the archers to wear only flat-soled shoes before entering the arena.

Mercifully, further embarrassment was averted. The event was virtually held “in camera” — spectators were not allowed in. In fact, the meet ended without anything being actually tested.

For badminton, the ‘Test' event was the Asian Championship at the newly-built yet incomplete stadium at the Siri Fort Complex. The FoP was fine but the non-functioning of the electronic scoreboard left those present at the venue with very little clue regarding the status of the matches. The television commentators had the unenviable job of guessing the score of the match in progress while covering the proceedings live.

The Indian Open, the ‘Test' event for table tennis at the Yamuna Sports Complex was better organised. Though the ‘show court' of the stadium was far from complete, with the roof yet to be in place, the Table Tennis Federation of India did a good job of conducting the international meet with minimum of problems. The TTFI officials had far better cooperation from the Delhi Police than what the Badminton Association of India managed a month before.

The conduct of the netball ‘Test' event at the newly-constructed Thyagaraj Sports Complex was also smooth. But the Australian team manager, Margaret Molina, pointed out major flaws after inspecting the FoP in February and again in May and hinted that her players would not be too keen to travel to Delhi for the Games in case India did not address her concerns.

Behind schedule…the practice stadium for hockey is still to be completed.-AP

Molina's concerns revolved mainly around the “warping” of the flooring — made of soft maple wood — besides the incorrect goal-posts and poor lighting.

“Where the actual wood met at each little line, it had actually come apart. The organisers are also saying that because of the monsoon season and the humidity, the warping is happening and when that's finished, it will all settle down again.

“When I got home, I emailed them and put my three major concerns to them. Since then, the lighting has (been fixed) I've been told ... but that's all that I've heard,” Molina recalled.

Molina said if the problems are not rectified, “we wouldn't be able to play because that could be three or four broken ankles in one quarter,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted her as saying.

For squash, the facility at the Siri Fort Complex was not ready in time for the Asian Championship which was eventually moved to Chennai. Later, the squash ‘Test' event was an almost local affair with some young players making up the field for the four-day tournament. Here, too, not much was achieved by those going to be involved in the Commonwealth Games.

The three-day Federation Cup swimming meet was a success despite the Shyama Prasad Aquatic complex being far from ready. The flawed diving tower, from which the lift was, shockingly, removed after being in use since 1982, is threatening to be a big source of embarrassment once the leading divers from the Commonwealth nations arrive in the last week of September.

The small and incomplete change-rooms for the swimmers, the inadequate number of showers and the falling of the false ceiling over the warm-up pool have all added to the worries of the Swimming Federation of India officials.

The FINA (international swimming federation) delegate, Sam Ramsamy, minced no words in condemning the sub-standard facilities at the venue. He later met the Organising Committee Chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, and apprised him of the grave shortcomings he had noticed during the meet.

Though the R. K. Khanna tennis complex, which hosted the Asian Junior Championship, appeared fine, the floodlights used were inadequate and presented a poor picture on television during the live coverage. Curiously, most of the money seems to have been spent on the facility block that has about 50 rooms, which may not be used for the Commonwealth Games!

Shoddy work…a section of the weightlifting stadium is water-logged following heavy rain.-PTI

The Tughlakabad Shooting Range, with hundreds of electronic targets, etc. seems to be ready for the Games. But the basics like sufficient number of rest-rooms for shooters and easy access to them during competition are missing. The rain during the Commonwealth shooting championship, a ‘Test' event, led to a lot of water seepage on the walls, but luckily no leakage from the roofs.

Had the construction been planned better, the pillars that hinder the view of the spectators and television cameras at the shotgun ranges could have been avoided. The huge steel pillars that support the roof that provides shade for the shooters are an absolute waste. Ranges around the world use a minimal, umbrella-like roof for saving the shooters from sun and rain. It also helps interruption-free viewing.

The Kadarpur range for full bore events that offer two gold medals is generally good.

The velodrome, the weightlifting hall and the boxing arena at the Talkatora Stadium were all examples of poor workmanship as rain water played havoc and drowned the tall claims of ‘world class' construction by the men in authority.

In fact, the roof of the newly-built weightlifting complex leaked profusely even on the day of the inauguration. Covers could be seen in several areas of the roof to prevent rain water from seeping in even as the Union Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy dedicated the venue to the nation.

The shoddy work was clearly seen in several areas, including the flooring of the main hall. The finishing was so awful that it looked like some temporary arrangement. Besides, the sheets used for flooring were peeling off in several places.

Workers fix the leaks on the roof of the weightlifting stadium.-V.V. KRISHNAN

The ‘Test' event for wrestling at the IG Stadium is best remembered for the high-handed manner in which the Delhi Police imposed its authority over one and all. What best sums up the unacceptable conduct of the men in uniform is the fact that the President of the world wrestling body Raphael Martinetti was denied access in spite of holding a valid accreditation.

Overall, the ‘Test' events threw up several warnings, some of them too obvious to be ignored. Surprisingly, one consistent factor throughout these ‘Test' events was the ill-equipped media tribunes at all the venues. If the National Stadium had a makeshift press box, the one at the Siri Fort Stadium was inadequate. It was worse at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Aquatic centre, where the press box did not have tables.

Former sports journalist Stefan Thies, Head of the Media Operations for the Games and the man responsible for setting up the tribunes, explained: “We did not get these stadiums well ahead of the test events. But I assure you things will be in place for the Games.”