India Stumbling: The Commonwealth Games Fiasco

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 9/25/2010 12:30:00 AM
One of the slogans used by Indian authorities to describe the economic ascent of their country has been "India Rising." However, another longstanding knock on the country has been its lacklustre infrastructure--ports, roads, sanitation and what else have you. Compared to the likes of China, which always prioritizes these things, let's say that India lags behind. Among the BASIC countries, China put up all sorts of dazzling stadiums to impress the foreigners during the 2008 Summer Olympics, while South Africa just hosted a very successful 2010 World Cup where international visitors were treated to a real showcase of African culture and development. Football organizer FIFA certainly wasn't one to complain.

Now it's India's turn to strut its stuff as another member of the BASIC countries (Brazil gets its shot, of course, with World Cup 2014). The upcoming 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi are exactly what they say on the tin, featuring the UK and its myriad former colonies which constitute the British Commonwealth. Held every four years, it gathers some of the best athletes these countries can muster. Unfortunately for India, these games have proven to be an absolute media fiasco. The newspaper headlines worldwide are all agog over unmissable signs that preparation has been lacklustre such as collapsing structures, unfinished stadiums, and a squalid athletes' village:
[W]ith infrastructure collapsing, stadiums unfinished and the athletes' village resembling the aftermath of a party advertised by a teenager on Facebook, Delhi is in danger of humiliation. And all this before the most cynical body of workers known to man arrives in town: the world's sporting press.

Delhi appears to be doomed. Yet all is not entirely lost. Sure, the few high-profile sportsmen available to the Games – Sir Chris Hoy, Phillips Idowu and above all Usain Bolt – long ago indicated that they would be absent. Sure, some of the sports are hardly likely to seize the front page (lawn bowls, anyone?). Sure, the unholy combination of incompetence, corruption and a delayed monsoon have turned much of the site into a festering swamp...
You simply can't get away with this kind of lackadaisical preparation in this day and age. Some are already saying that the negative images beaming out of Delhi will negatively affect India's ability to attract foreign investment and tourists:
Moody’s Analytics Inc., a unit of Moody’s Corp., said India’s preparations for next month’s Commonwealth Games may discourage investors and dent its appeal with holidaymakers. “Confidence in India’s infrastructure, its capacity to organize large events, and its reputation as a tourist destination have all been brought into question,” Matt Robinson, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in Sydney wrote in a note today.

India has struggled to get venues, bridges and other infrastructure ready in time to host teams from 71 countries and territories during the Oct. 3-14 event. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants to tap private financing for at least half of the $1 trillion India needs to build roads, ports, utilities and airports in the five years ending March 2017 to accelerate growth in Asia’s third-biggest economy.

“The negative publicity could deter foreign investment and give multinational businesses considering expanding in India reason to think twice,” said Robinson. The buildup to the Games, which Singh had said would highlight India’s growing economic strength, has been marred by the collapse of a footbridge next to the main stadium, an outbreak of dengue fever, monsoon floods and security concerns after the Sept. 19 shooting of two Taiwanese near a mosque.

“There is no major project anywhere in the world which is concluded to perfection,” India’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma told reporters today in Ottawa, where he was meeting with his Canadian counterpart. “Our guests will be welcomed and the Commonwealth games will be rejoiced and remembered.” Sharma said “unprecedented” rains and floods have caused difficulties and other countries should show “understanding.”

Complaints about conditions at the athletes’ village, which will house the teams, emerged this week. Canada, Scotland and New Zealand delayed their arrival in India to give organizers time to fix plumbing, wiring and furnishings. “The fiasco is undermining the anticipated benefits of hosting a major international sports event,” said Robinson. Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell said today that “considerable improvements” had been made to the village.
There went India's nation branding exercise--for now. Instead of Beijing, it looks more like the great American city of Detroit. So much for the showcase bit; let's just hope the show goes on reasonably well for India's sake. I can guarantee you this, however: F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone, a stickler for preparation, simply will not allow such things to happen during the inaugural 2011 Indian Grand Prix.