There were drawbacks too

A job well done? A freeze from the Closing Ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. “Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional Games,” said the Commonwealth Games Federation Chief, Michael Fennell.

The horror that the prelude happened to be gradually turned into appreciation as the Games wore on. Yet, there were too many organisational glitches for the Games to be called ‘the best ever' or ‘great'. Over to K. P. Mohan.

Months before the Commonwealth Games started, and ended in a record medal haul for India, several observers had made these forecasts: “There will be a spectacular Opening Ceremony; there will be a bagful of medals for India never before won by the country. And then there will be a grand Closing Ceremony; everything else would be forgotten amidst the euphoria created.”

How true! Even a crystal-gazer would not have been able to predict the events that followed the October 3 opening with that kind of accuracy.

“Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional Games,” said the Commonwealth Games Federation Chief, Michael Fennell, with a touch of the late Juan Antonio Samaranch at Olympic Games gone by.

But Fennell also said, hours earlier, that the CGF would make a detailed evaluation later.

The Organising Committee (OC) Chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, called it a “great Games” as always he had said the Games would be. He and the OC were facing a probe a day after closing.

The horror that the prelude happened to be gradually turned into appreciation as the Games wore on. Yet, there were too many organisational glitches for the Games to be called ‘the best ever' or ‘great'.

A clear picture about how things developed could be drawn from what Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic middle distance gold medallist and President of CWG, England, had to say at the end of the Games. “They were right on the brink of not being ready (with infrastructure). But what they didn't have time for was the operations, the management, the structure and the chain of command. I think they've learned on the job,” she was quoted as saying in the Guardian.

“In another week, it would probably have been the best Games there has ever been” Dame Kelly said.

That is the closest to a frank assessment that anyone could have made of the Games.

We give our own assessment about how the Games went and what could have been achieved had there been better co-ordination. We will list the plus points first and then go into the drawbacks.

Games Village: This was supposed to be the best ever. It turned out to be the biggest embarrassment when advance delegations arrived to find filth and water-logged basements, with fear of dengue quite real. Two weeks later the ‘Village' was the most praised of all the facilities. The food came in for special praise, too. There is a dispute about who should be given credit for salvaging the ‘Village' from being “uninhabitable” to being rated “excellent”.

The Games Village…a major embarrassment when advance delegations arrived to find filth and water-logged basements, but a few days later, it was the most praised of all the facilities.

Technical conduct and clockwork precision: Fennell praised the conduct of the Games and the manner in which schedules were adhered to. There were a few technical hitches here and there, but these were to be expected and by and large the competitions went off without a hitch.

Security: A little overdone, but understandable when viewed against the threat perceptions. Delhi Police was at its best behaviour during the Games, even saying the odd ‘good afternoon' or ‘welcome sir'.

Stadia: The brand new venues, some of them reconstructed, came in for all-round praise. The flaws at the swimming pool were not made an issue of while the track at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium passed the test on the morning of the competition after three portions of it sank a bit due to the activities associated with the opening ceremony. “The changeover from ceremony mode to competition mode was the most difficult at the Nehru Stadium,” said an athletics official. Luckily the rain Gods were kind to the OC; mops and buckets would have been on stand-by at indoor halls, we presume.

Traffic: The most surprising part of it all was Delhi's traffic and the way it was managed. The ‘Games lane' did cause huge jams when they were put on trial but during the actual Games, things began to move smoothly. Perhaps not many people ventured out in their cars or perhaps many had left town, visualising the problems beforehand.

Crowds: The Delhiites surprisingly took all hardships in their stride, whether it was on the roads or while entering the stadia. They came in droves after an initial lull that prompted the media to portray empty stadia and lack of enthusiasm. Athletics drew the biggest crowds, at least on two days the attendance going towards the capacity of 60,000.

Performance: World-class performances were rare. So many world-beaters were missing from the line-up. Still, what mattered was the Indian performance and that turned out to be fabulous.

The drawbacks, the disappointments Games Village: How in the world could everyone associated with the Games leave a large portion of the ‘Village' unattended even when the advance delegations had started arriving is a mystery that may never be solved. That the basement was water-logged when the salvaging operations started should tell the tale about the indifference shown by the OC, the DDA and the Urban Development Ministry. Kelly Holmes said that it was only after Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit took charge that England decided to stay on, prompting others also to continue.

Security: The body searches were intrusive. The checks, at least at two points in big venues, were quite unnecessary since bags and laptops were being scanned anyway. Some 30-odd items including umbrellas and lipsticks were banned. No matter how one explains the need to have the tightest security, the Games atmosphere was spoiled by the very sight of sand bags, barricades, police posts and automatic-weapon-wielding securitymen all over the place.

Ticketing: It was so poorly managed that during the initial days of the competitions, there were only a handful of spectators at most venues, athletics excluded. Things improved later, though the scam surrounding complimentary tickets should be probed. People complained that there were very few tickets available across counters even when stadia remained half filled during the second week of the competitions.

Accreditations: By the time the Games were to begin the OC was handling over 1,00,000 accreditation requests. The police verification deadline had passed in July but accreditation requests were received right up to October. Even the Cabinet Secretariat referred a few last-minute requests from media organisations. Around 12,000 of them were blocked by the Union Home Ministry for want of proper verification or missing photographs or inadequate information. Some of them were taken away after a few days, posing problems for the OC. The fact also remained that almost anyone connected with any sport in Delhi had an accreditation card around his/her neck.

Transport: This was one area that looked adequate from a superficial sense but caused lots of hardships to athletes, technical officials and the media. The athletics officials were so harassed by the poor transport arrangements that they threatened to walk out one day. The media buses never operated according to schedules, often making it tough for reporters, always in a hurry to catch deadlines. There were no transport desks at venues to sort out requirements. At various venues, officials and athletes were stranded well into the night. At the village, on a few days, athletes were waiting for buses when at the MPC scribes were waiting for their scheduled press conferences.

Leaving nothing to chance…an athlete undergoes a security check at the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi.

MPC and IBC: The media centres were so located that they were not easily accessible to those who preferred to move around in Metro or private transport. The long-winding stretch to reach the MPC from a media entry point located in a shabby corner of Pragati Maidan proved a deterrent for those who would have wanted to move from venue to venue quickly. The fact that the media shuttle bus service also operated from the MPC premises made it more difficult.

Official results updates and GNS: There was no real-time scoring worth the name on the web. You were lucky if you could get the results after a few hours; sometimes even after a day. People abroad, following India's fortunes on the web, were ready to pull their hair in sheer frustration. The Games News Service (GNS) was an apology of a service brought in with great hopes and at considerable expenses for the benefit of the media. Someone obviously made a killing.

Catering: While the ‘Village' catering was of a high standard, venue catering was not only poor but quite often delayed. Volunteers and officials complained of stale food being served not to speak of low quality being passed off as high standard.

The tourist rush that never was: The Delhi Games were expected to draw a lakh of tourists. In the end, a few thousand came. There are no figures yet to show how many came solely for the Games, but very few were seen on the roads, at Metro stations etc bar those who had come with the delegations, even if they were not part of them. Hotels felt let-down; college hostels vacated for the tourist rush reported no bookings.

Television coverage: Despite outsourcing the task to an English company, DD failed to raise its quality of television coverage and commentary to match the High Definition quality.

Deserted roads for events in the open: The road racing cyclists, the race-walkers and the marathon runners moved through a ghost town. Security ensured that no one would dare come out during those days except the officials, media and team personnel.

CGF secrecy: The CGF's policy of keeping the athletes' lists secret right up to the morning of the competition deprived journalists of staple material to provide a good build-up for the Games. Not unexpectedly, the media went looking for the ‘negative' stuff. And there was plenty of that available. The OC Communications Department, busy elsewhere, never really bothered.

The aerostat: “Did they bring it at a cost of Rs. 40 crore (or was it Rs. 70 crore?) to just show a few images, a few flags, a few scenes from down below, and to hang a few puppets?” asked a lady who attended the Closing Ceremony.