What the 2010 Games mean

INDIA's successful bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi has triggered extreme reactions.

INDIA's successful bid to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi has triggered extreme reactions. While a majority of sportslovers, sports administrators and former athletes have whole-heartedly celebrated the Indian contingent's triumph at Montego Bay in Jamaica, where New Delhi beat Hamilton (Canada) by 46 votes to 22, there is another school of thought that believes that the Games are far too expensive and would not bring in matching benefits to the host country.

Seven years on, India will become only the second Asian country to host the prestigious Games. Malaysia, which hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, was the first. While the arrival of the big Games will certainly be a big boost to India's image in the world of sport, several questions remain vis a vis the eventual successful conduct of the Games.

Although India has played host to two Asian Games, including the inaugural one as early as in 1951, the sheer size and cost of the 2010 Games are mind-boggling. It is expected to cost $422 million and when you make room for inflation, the government at the centre may well have to fork out something like $600 million to put it on stage in 2010.

What is more, to make sure that it would win the vote in Jamaica, India promised each of the 72 Commonwealth nations $100,000 to train athletes, at a total cost of $7.2 million.

Not surprisingly, this touched off a controversy as Canada cried foul and declaring that it was not willing to "play the game that India has played." But then, the game has been won and lost and rather than sit and ponder from a moral high ground, it is perhaps time now to come to grips with the task in hand.

The bid itself was put together in a professional manner by an overseas agency and was supported passionately by the Indian bid contingent which included, among others, the IOA President Suresh Kalmadi and the former Indian cricket captain Sunil Gavaskar.

And the success has been hailed as a turning point in the history of Indian sport by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which already has a Memorandum of Understanding with the IOA regarding the Games.

That corporate India is welcoming a multi-discipline event that may or may not have cricket in its fold is indeed heartening. For, the CII may have to play a key role in supporting the 2010 Games if it is to become financially viable.

Even 10 years ago, all this might have been a distant dream. But a liberalised Indian economy in a globalised world is enjoying boom-time and as a confident nation marching with pride to join the big league players, India may indeed wanted to showcase its strengths in the centre-stage of sport.

The Commonwealth Games of 2010 does indeed present this opportunity. But the question is, at what cost? And, does the host nation have the athletic might to make a big impression in New Delhi seven years on?

As for the first question, the IOA and the Games organising committee must do everything possible to minimise the expenditure for the government. At present, the estimated income from the Games is $186 million, less than 40 per cent of the cost of the Games. And nobody is sure about the authenticity of the estimate either. In the event, the ordinary tax payer will have to part with considerable money to make the Games possible.

This is where it may not be unwise to consider roping in cricket which is not part of the 15 disciplines suggested for 2010. But the IOA does have the option to bring cricket in and this must be done as early as possible to help the marketing of the Games in a nation where Sachin Tendulkar is God and cricket is the one secular religion.

As for the second question, a lot will depend on how much progress Indian athletes make in seven years in the disciplines that are part of the Games.

Apart from shooting and women's weightlifting, India, at present strength, cannot hope to do much in other disciplines, particularly in swimming and athletics, both of which will have world class performers.

And the IOA has to chart out a long-term plan to train young athletes in several disciplines with a view to winning medals in 2010. If so much can be spent on hosting a multi-event spectacle, then it is only right that a small percentage of that money is diverted towards training Indian athletes.

Finally, this much is sure: winning the bid was the easy part. To turn the Games into a big success — in terms of organisation, in terms of everything else — is a Herculean task.