Put simply, India’s plans for its first major international sporting event are a shambles. The Commonwealth Games, to be held in October this year, has already descended into an embarrassing spectacle of corruption on an almost unimaginable level, and what should have been a shining moment is turning into a moment of shame.
Newspapers and TV stations here are full of the latest allegations and bungling by the individuals and groups responsible for getting ready for the event. And the problems go right to the top, with the head of the organizing Committee of the Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi, also in the dock.
Kalmadi’s reputation has been tarnished in all this after his close associates allegedly allocated large sums of cash to a production house in London that wasn’t on the list prepared by the Indian High Commission in London for providing media coverage of the Queen’s Baton Rally. There have also been questions raised about the procurement of equipment for the Games at prices well in excess of market rates.
Although India won the bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2003, the venues still haven’t been finished. Meanwhile, the projected cost of hosting the Game has increased seventeen fold. According to the government, the Games will cost about $2.5 billion, while one well known critic of the event, former Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, estimates the total costs will actually approach $ 7.6 billion.
The Games were meant to transform Delhi’s image and give a big boost to sports in this medal hungry country. Instead they’ve turned into a money minting machine for officials. It’s painful for proud Indians to see such a lack of integrity among those presiding over the destiny of so many people. And it inevitably also raises doubts about India’s supposed rise more generally.
Liberalization has done much to free our economy and society from government control and has resulted in rapid economic progress and prosperity—never before in India have so many people become rich in such a short time.
Sadly, officials’ mindsets haven’t changed with the times, and the country risks being strangled by red tape. It’s depressing that an event that was supposed to be about improving the country’s sporting prowess is being overshadowed by discussions of corruption and incompetence.
The question now is whether India is capable of hosting any kind of major national event in light of the lack of even basic efficiency or probity. The government must now tighten the screws on corrupt officials who have benefitted at the expense of the country. A transparent system of governance and basic honesty are, after all, about more than hosting a sporting event—they will be essential if India is going to take the next step in its development and reach its true potential.