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Why India must NOT host the Olympics

Last updated on: October 18, 2010 15:26 IST

Why India must NOT host the Olympics

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T N Ninan


In a country where there is no financial discipline, and poverty and corruption rule the roost, it will be unthinkable to spend Rs 50,000 crore on a two-week sports spectacle.


So, should Delhi bid for the Olympics? Certainly not, if we are to have a repeat of how the Commonwealth Games (CWG) were organised; and of course not, if we are going to try and compete with Beijing 2008, which spent $40 billion (Rs 180,000 crore!).

But maybe yes, if we can learn to do it differently, at modest budgets, and within cost -- because some cities have done just that.

But since the likelihood is that we will repeat the CWG experience, it is probably better to keep away from bidding for the 2020 Olympics. Here's why.

First, most Games organisers seem to be poor at financial discipline, and fail to stay within their budgets.

The London Olympics, scheduled for 2012, was initially said to cost 2.4 billion; that has already become 9.3 billion (Rs 65,000 crore). For reference, the Delhi Games have cost Rs 11,600 crore (against an original budget of Rs 1,850 crore), with the Delhi government spending another Rs 16,500 crore on city infrastructure.

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Image: The Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
Photographs: Reuters
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Meanwhile, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games of 2014 have already seen their cost go up 20 per cent, to Rs 3,200 crore, not counting Rs 11,500 crore being spent to improve the infrastructure in a city with a core population of 600,000. For all one knows, the bill could climb further.

None of these is an example of proper financial planning and execution. But there is no shortage of those.

The Melbourne Commonwealth Games, four years ago, ended within budget (about Rs 5,000 crore). And most recent Olympics other than the one at Athens in 2004 (which spent twice the original budget, and eventually cost Rs 56,000 crore) have actually made a profit -- starting with Los Angeles in 1984, and going on to Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta, perhaps even Sydney in 2000.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India must NOT host the Olympics

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So, it is possible to do it -- by using existing sports facilities and city infrastructure, by controlling costs, and by focussing on private money being used and not drawing on government funds (this seems to automatically bring in greater accountability).

What we do not want, at any cost, is a repeat of the Montreal Olympics of 1976 -- the city ended up deep in debt, and took the next 30 years to pay it off.

So, can Delhi do a Los Angeles or Seoul? The answer is, probably not. First, because it is almost impossible to keep the government out of it, simply because the Indian Olympic Association (think Mr Kalmadi) has zero credibility with potential private financiers.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India must NOT host the Olympics

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So, we are almost certain to see a repeat of the bloated budgets, corruption, delays and shoddy execution that have marked CWG 2010.

Second, because Delhi as a city is simply not ready for it. It ranks about 150th in Mercer's listing of the world's most livable cities (Glasgow ranks 57th). No matter how much the city prides itself as India's premier metropolis, and how many encomiums Delhi's citizens got at the closing ceremony on Thursday, the fact is that Delhi attracts embarrassing comments in places like Lonely Planet's listing of places to visit (Glasgow, for some reason, figures in a list of the Top 10!).

In the international visitor's mind, Delhi seems to have little going for it other than its illustrious history and monuments.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India must NOT host the Olympics

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These listings are before all the latest improvements -- the new airport terminal, the expanded metro, and all the new 'street furniture'.

But above all, India should be having different priorities at this stage of the game, when it figures embarrassingly poorly in so many rankings: hunger, human development, poverty, corruption. . .

No matter how much we love our athletes and their new-found appetite for winning, it should be unthinkable for any government here to want to spend Rs 50,000 crore and probably much more on a two-week sports spectacle.


Photographs: Reuters
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