Sunday, October 25, 2009

We use sports to destroy

It’s unpleasant, but true. India’s official set-up does not have the calibre to organise high-end international games. Cricket fests, yes, but something like Commonwealth Games, not to mention the Olympics, is simply beyond the ken of our mandarins.

Other countries garner international respect by holding big-ticket Games in exemplary style. We have already invited an early dose of disrepute with the Commonwealth Games authorities in London going public about India’s unpreparedness. Suresh Kalmadi, the bossman of India’s games establishment, hasn’t got the point. He has picked up a fight with the Games Federation, and announced that all preparations are on track – a demonstrable terminological inexactitude.

The Kalmadis of the establishment are of course the problem. India is the only country where every sports body is headed by a politician. And they are permanent fixtures. K.P.S.Gill had to be bulldozed out of the Hockey Federation’s chair after the whole nation was ashamed by his mismanagement. Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi remains President of the Football Federation although he is, unfortunately, incapacitated by illness. BJP’s V.K. Malhotra has been President of the Archery Federation for 30 years. Cricket is controlled by Sharad Pawar and Rajiv Shukla and Arun Jaitley in a unique NCP-Congress-BJP trimurthi coalition. From wrestling to the National Rifle Association, politicians control everything.

The reasons are two-fold. There is a lot of money in sports (and money is to politicians what honey is to ants) and there is a lot of patronage bossmen can dispense at will. There is some obligatory auditing of moneys received, but the sports federations function largely free of accountability. As for privileges and patronage, we only have to remember that Indian sports delegations that go to international meets are notorious for having more officials than athletes in them.

What we lack is a national vision and a national pride. If we had these in sufficient measure, we would have seen in international sports events an opportunity to achieve overall national progress. Barcelona is still remembered for the imagination with which it used the opportunity provided by the Olympics it hosted in 1992. It rebuilt its entire transport system, completely renovated its airport and spruced up its infrastructural facilities. These turned Barcelona into one of the finest cities in Europe.

By contrast, what did we get from the Asian Games in 1982? It gave our political hangers-on a golden chance to praise the organisational genius and fantastic efficiency of Rajiv Gandhi. But the facilities it created were more a blot than a gain for Delhi. Like the destruction of Siri forest for the Asiad Village.

This time too, destruction has been rampant. Delhi University has a disused stadium or two. These could be updated and modernised. Instead they set out to cut hundreds of trees, many of them a century old, to put up a new rugby stadium. Rugby being an unwanted game in India, this expensive stadium will go into disuse after its one-event glory.

Another 891 trees were cut in the Siri forest for basketball/squash courts. A Supreme Court-appointed committee found the site unsuitable anyway and recommended a Rs 5-crore fine on the Delhi Development Authority. Architect Charles Correa quit the Delhi Urban Arts Council refusing to act as a rubber stamp for the unscientific, arbitrary building spree. The Games Village is rising, on the strength of a Supreme Court judgment, on the banks of the Yamuna threatening, according to experts, Delhi’s largest natural groundwater recharge area.

In the end the authorities may blunder through and the Games may open on schedule, but at what cost? The Barcelonas and the Beijings of the world make their cities more liveable under the banner of sports. We destroy what we have. But the politicians are happy. Perhaps that’s all that matters in India that is Bharat.