What all can you hide?

Taking security too far? Fans coming to watch the matches at the Dhyan Chand Stadium were put to a lot of inconvenience.-RAJEEV BHATT Taking security too far? Fans coming to watch the matches at the Dhyan Chand Stadium were put to a lot of inconvenience.

International sports today needs the toughest of security set-ups. But, at the same time, its efficacy is not measured simply in terms of the lack of incidents but also in relation to how unobtrusive it can be and how it can cause the least botheration to the public. Of course it also has to be ensured that the stadia look exactly like what they are supposed to look; not like fortresses, writes K. P. Mohan.

Those familiar with the Central Vista might have thought that a circus tent had come up in front of the Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

No, it was not; it was just a screen to hide the main gate of the stadium from public view, especially the passing motorists, during the World Cup hockey tournament. It blocked the magnificent view of the newly-reconstructed National Stadium, especially at night when all of India's league matches were scheduled. But it was perhaps essential for providing security to the teams amidst claims that several sports events in India including the World Cup and the IPL were being targeted by terrorist groups.

Was it absolutely necessary? Is this going to be the pattern in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games and during the Games itself? These are disturbing questions.

International sports today needs the toughest of security set-ups. But at the same time, its efficacy is not measured simply in terms of the lack of incidents but also in relation to how unobtrusive it can be and how it can cause the least botheration to the public. Of course it also has to be ensured that the stadia look exactly like what they are supposed to look; not like fortresses.

The majority of the teams in the World Cup were of the opinion that the security was adequate and the restrictions were necessary in order to protect the players in a situation where terrorist threats had posed a serious concern even though they were eventually found to be lacking in credibility. The Pakistani team, however, expressed its displeasure at security being rather ordinary, according to a report from Karachi before the tournament began.

Before the World Cup, teams, officials, support staff, International Hockey Federation (FIH) and the Organising Committee officials including supervising officials, the media and the public found it cumbersome to go through with the procedures. Even when the mediapersons sported accreditation cards they had no easy access to the Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

If they did manage, then they were told they could watch a practice match on Pitch No. 1, but not at No. 2 or else they were welcome to see pitch No. 2 but not the main stadium that housed the media centre.

These were teething problems, of course. Yet, they did cause a lot of inconvenience to everyone concerned. As the tournament progressed, the security personnel, drawn from Delhi Police and paramilitary forces, seemed to relax a little. Unlike the typical Delhi cop, who is adept at harassing the public, those who manned the gates were rather friendly, often cutting a joke or enquiring about the Indian team's fate.

A few things were taboo, though. Coins were strictly forbidden. Some smart officer might have felt that if thrown in a pack, if not singly, they could hurt the players. Even the media was not spared since the security experts did rightly assess that from the media box, photographers' positions, the media conference room and the ‘mixed zone', the mediapersons were indeed too close to the players for comfort.

After the opening day, some brilliant officer decided that water bottles could also pose a threat to the players from the media box. Quick came the ban.

The Chairman of the Organising Committee, Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi (above, right, with the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Michael Fennell, at a press conference in New Delhi) said that security agencies were being told that they would need to follow 'sports protocols' during the Games. Will that mean cell phones and cameras would be allowed? What about water, food packers and handbags?-S. SUBRAMANIUM

They did not, however, mercifully, ban the camera bags, lenses and laptops, all much heavier than coins and water bottles! For fear of being asked to enter the stadium barefoot next time, we do not intend recalling the incidents of shoe-throwing at VIPs by mediamen.

Throughout the so-called ‘test events' for the Commonwealth Games, it was clear the security was on tenterhooks, unsure of the adequacy of the arrangements, unsure of what information to seek while approving police verification process for accreditations and unsure of the foolproof nature of the sanitised zones. They looked to draw comfort from the large posse of armed securitymen.

Thus no crowds were allowed into the Dr. Karni Singh ranges for the Commonwealth Shooting Championships, ditto for the Commonwealth Archery Championships. And crowds were restricted for the initial stages of the Commonwealth Boxing Championships. Once they realised the futility of ‘testing' arrangements without the crowd, they let in the boxing fans, though much of the numbers might have been ‘organised'.

Hockey was an exception, though. Crowds came in large numbers for India's matches at least and they were well managed. They were even allowed to take cell phones and soft drinks inside, though both were ‘banned items'.

A fort knox? Dhyan Chand stadium on the eve of the World Cup.-RAJEEV BHATT

The Chairman of the Organising Committee, Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi said that security agencies were being told that they would need to follow ‘sports protocols' during the Games. Will that mean cell phones and cameras would be allowed? What about water, food packets and handbags?

For a security set-up that hid the front of the stadium from public view during a World Championship, that refused to admit PIB-accredited journalists into the National Stadium during the pre-World Cup build-up and that wanted to know — and still wants to know — where you had your schooling from the age of 15, following ‘sports protocols' would be a tougher job than sanitising a 20km corridor to ensure the safety of the athletes.

It will be almost impossible if they started asking each and every worker engaged in the construction activity at the Games venues where he or she studied from the age of 15 or whether he or she had ever faced disciplinary action from the employer.

Tailpiece: Eight days after the end of the World Cup, a PIB-accredited photographer got a visit from local policeman at his residence. He was not at home but the cop left word for him that he could report at the ‘thana' the same evening. The photographer went to the police station and to his surprise was told that this was a police verification procedure for the World Cup hockey tournament!