The fiasco of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games
More than 7 years ago, on 13 November 2003 to be precise, India was announced as the host of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This was supposed to be an event to showcase an emerging Asian power on the world stage – and only a few months before the Games were staged, the Indian Organising Committee for the Games expressed the surreal optimism that they would be hosting the “best ever” Games.
What was supposed to have been a coming-out party for India has turned out to be a fiasco and an unmitigated public-relations disaster. Ramshackle preparations, accompanied by filthy and uninhabitable athletes’ accommodation, collapsing facilities, shoddy and substandard construction, insecure electrical wiring, were such a source of embarrassment and humiliation that the Indian media quite correctly described the Delhi Commonwealth Games as the “Shame Games”.
Even in the middle of September, just two weeks before the start of the Games, the stadia were ready on paper, with structural safety certification outstanding or suspect; venue test runs and fire safety drills still to be conducted; the all-too-important result-scoring instruments untested; the ticket distribution system unresolved; equipment for the awards ceremonies still being ordered, with no training on its use.
Just two weeks before the opening ceremony, the Commonwealth Games Federation made known its displeasure in the strongest terms, with its chief executive, Mike Hooper, on 21 September describing the accommodation at the new athletes’ village in Delhi as “filthy” and “uninhabitable”. With the Games scheduled to start on 3 October, and 8,000 athletes preparing to land in Delhi, he was right to sound the alarm. Mr Hooper’s damning observation was a devastating, if well-deserved, blow to the local organisers who had smugly asserted that the village was the “best ever” to house the English-speaking world’s sporting élite.
As if all this were not enough, Delhi was struck by an outbreak of dengue fever, with New Delhi hospitals reporting 2,000 cases. This could easily have been prevented through the implementation of proper hygiene measures and mosquito eradication. On 19 September a gunman fired on a tourist bus outside New Delhi’s Jama Masjid, a major tourist site, wounding two Taiwanese tourists and adding to the alarm about the safety of the Games.
Fed up with the inability, or unwillingness, of the Indian Organising Committee to clean up its act, the Commonwealth Games Federation on 21 September gave the organisers 24 hours to clean up the athletes’ village and get its act together. On the same day, a footbridge – part of the triumphal arch on the approach to the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium – collapsed, injuring 25 people.
Consequent upon the shambolic state of preparations for the Commonwealth Games, a number of athletes decided not to attend, and many teams used other countries as their pre-Games bases.
It is not as though the Indian Organising Committee had not been warned about the lack of preparedness on its part. A year before the Games, on 13 October 2009, Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, expressed his concerns across “all operational areas” surrounding the event – ticketing, accommodation, logistics and medical services. Two days later he was asked by the Indian authorities to leave the country as his presence was considered “an impediment” to local organisers.
The Indian ruling classes present a lethal mix of arrogance, venality, incompetence and shamelessness – all of which the Commonwealth Games have served to expose to the whole world. In response to the openly expressed concerns of the Commonwealth Games Federation about the cleanliness of the athletes’ village, Lalit Bhanot, the general secretary of the Indian Organising Committee, said that the international standards of cleanliness were different from local standards: “They want certain standards of cleanliness. They may differ from my standards”. Translated into ordinary language, this shameless response amounts to saying: we are merely dirty Indians; don’t expect international standards of cleanliness and hygiene from us. When, to the horror of millions around the world, a footbridge close to the Games’ main venue, completed only a few days earlier, collapsed, Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi, casually remarked that the bridge was not meant for use by the participants. Translated into ordinary language, the Chief Minister’s callous response amounted to saying that since the bridge was to be used by Indians alone, and that too by poor Indians, it was not a matter of great concern if some of them suffered injuries, fatal or otherwise, upon its collapse. Likewise, the response of the incompetent and feckless Congress hack, Suresh Kalmadi, chairman of the local Organising Committee, to the crumbling shoddy infrastructure was to argue that it was just as well that these deficiencies had been exposed in time for repairs to be effected. The point, however, is that the allegedly world class facilities, built at huge cost and paid for by the poor Indian taxpayer, should have been able to withstand any heavy monsoon downpour because in Delhi these are a regular occurrence.
Coerced by the Commonwealth Games Federation and shamed by the Indian and world media, the Indian authorities managed to do just enough for the Games to commence on time. With the dazzling opening ceremony on Sunday 3 October successfully over, the incompetent and corrupt business as usual returned with a vengeance. While participants competed in near-empty arenas, the organisers made a belated effort to whip up public interest as potential spectators wrestled with dysfunctional ticketing systems and exasperating security arrangements. Of the 107,000 overseas ticket allocation, a mere 20,000 had been sold by the middle of September; of the 1.7 million tickets for the 11-day competition, opening and closing ceremonies included, only half were ever sold. There was no attempt made to interest and involve the residents of Delhi in the Games, let alone the people from the rest of India. Instead, the emphasis was on the élite, the scamsters, who have brought India’s credibility to its knees, with at least 30% of the tickets for the opening ceremony reserved for the VIPs and VVIPs. Since the government had shut schools and universities in Delhi to ease traffic during the Games, many Delhi residents, faced with the spectacle of a Games fiasco, took the wise decision to quit Delhi for the duration of the competition.
To cap it all, several British and Australian swimmers were brought low by illness that some teams have linked to pool water being contaminated with the droppings of pigeons nesting in the rafters of the swimming areas.
The Indian taxpayer paid at least £3 billion but received little else other than shame, thanks to the corruption, mismanagement and incompetence of the local organisers and the venality, arrogance and shamelessness of India’s rulers. The Indian ruling élite had boasted that the Games hosted by them would be comparable to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What was actually achieved amounted to a miserable failure – a failure that exposed the wider distance between India and China, bringing into relief China’s far superior organisation, discipline, competence and determination to stage global events in comparison to India’s. In the estimation of Boria Majumdar, an Indian cricket historian, Delhi’s Commonwealth Games “are not even 2 per cent of [Beijing’s] Olympic Games”.
But then Beijing’s Olympic Games were staged by China to display the collective achievements of the Chinese people to the rest of the world, while the Commonwealth Games were an attempt by the Indian élite to showcase that small section of the Indian population that boasts about 8% annual GDP growth and attempts to hide the hideous reality surrounding the overwhelming majority of the Indian people behind a façade of ‘shining India’, ‘incredible India’, and suchlike deceptive slogans. The reality of misery, grinding poverty, destitution and squalor that confront the Indian people can be gleaned from the following few basic facts:
1. One in every two Indian children suffers from malnutrition;
2. Eight Indian states have a higher incidence of malnutrition than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, which is regarded as being the most wretchedly poor part of the world;
3. While large buffer stocks of food, enough to feed 212 million people for a year, are lying in warehouses, being devoured by rats, or owing to shortage of storage space have been dumped in the open at the mercy of the elements, 350 million Indians go hungry;
4. According to figures released by UNICEF on 17 September this year, India is home to the highest number of children who die before reaching their 5th birthday, with 1.7 million under-five deaths in 2009, representing a mortality rate of 66 deaths per 1,000 births;
5. Between 1997 and 2008, according to official figures, nearly 200,000 farmers committed suicide through desperation caused by indebtedness and poverty (the actual figures are much higher);
6. India allocates a mere 4% of her GDP to public services and infrastructure;
7. A third of the Indian population are still illiterate after 63 years of independence from British colonial rule.
On the other hand, the two Ambani brothers account for 5% of the Indian economy in terms of assets, while India’s 50 dollar billionaires in 2008 between them controlled 20% of her GDP – a concentration of wealth higher than in Brazil or the present-day Russia of the handful of thieves, known as the oligarchs, who have stolen the Soviet people’s property. It could hardly be otherwise. Capitalism is developing in India at great speed and, with it, it is bringing in ever-accelerating polarisation, with greater and greater “accumulation of wealth at one pole” and increasing accumulation of poverty, “misery, agony of toil, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its product in the shape of capital” (Karl Marx, Capital, Vol I, p.645).
The real India is characterised by crushing poverty, an increasingly landless peasantry, grinding exploitation, corruption of colossal proportions, caste and class oppression, extreme concentration of wealth hand-in-hand with mass starvation among hundreds of millions of people eking out a miserable existence in conditions hardly fit for human beings to endure.
These are the conditions that shame India, not the Commonwealth Games which were for the overwhelming majority of the Indian people an irrelevant item of extravagance, staged by the rich and powerful Indian élite to project its idea of ‘shining India’. And these conditions will continue to plague the Indian people until they manage to get rid of their exploiters through the overthrow of the present economic and political dispensation. The only good thing to have come out of these Games is the thorough exposure of the incompetence, shameless corruption and arrogance so firmly embedded in the DNA of the Indian ruling class, which turned these Games into the fiasco they have been. That cannot be too bad, for this exposure cannot fail seriously to undermine the moral authority of the Indian ruling class over the masses of India, which undermining forms an essential element in the efforts of the Indian masses to get rid of the present social order and move to a higher social system which will guarantee them freedom from the pangs of hunger, grinding poverty, ruthless exploitation, nauseating corruption and unbearable arrogance of the Indian ruling classes.