Sunday Telegraph

Indian incompetence has been brought to the fore in a week of disturbing revelations of filthy, uninhabitable conditions and high-profile withdrawals.

Clive Lloyd tells the story of flying into Mumbai with his West Indian team in November 1974. Soon after arriving, he was taken by local cricket officials to a ground in the city which, less than three months later, was to be the venue for the last Test in the series.

Lloyd could hardly believe what he was seeing. It was just a large, bare, piece of red earth on which children were playing cricket, with no sign of any construction.

But, when he brought his team back to the city at the end of January, the red earth was covered with grass and enclosed by stands for 40,000.

Lloyd went on to score a series-winning double hundred, sparking a riot as Indian police lathi-charged unruly spectators, and the stadium was extensively damaged. By the next morning, it had been repaired, highlighting the way Indians meet deadlines.

In this case, it helped that the man who ran local cricket, a certain S.K. Wankhede, was also the state’s finance minister. For him to get a cricket stadium ready in three months was simply a case of a few phone calls to local builders and cement manufacturers, who could not refuse a man with such power.

But not even a Wankhede could have helped out with the Delhi Commonwealth Games. They reflect, not merely Indian incompetence and persistent failure to recognise that last-minute improvisation does not always work, but also the curious way the Commonwealth Games are organised.

The Games, which originated from an idea by Reverend Ashley Cooper for a “pan-Britannic pan-Anglican contest and festival every four years” to promote goodwill in the Empire, have always been fraught with problems.

In 1986, with only a month to go, the Edinburgh Games looked doomed. With the government refusing to meet the £5m shortfall, the Edinburgh organiser wrote pleading letters to 37 individuals, finding a saviour in one Robert Maxwell.

He promised to bail out the Games and milked this for so much publicity that they were dubbed “the Maxwell Games”. In the end, he gave nothing and the Games company ended up owing nearly £4m.

And even the much-acclaimed 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games could not have taken place had Tony Blair’s government not given it a large dollop of cash.

As Tessa Jowell, then Culture Secretary, recalls: “One of the first things in my in-tray in 2001 was the Manchester Commonwealth Games. We provided £85m to make sure they happened.”

Both these Games illustrate a fundamental difference between the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and World Cups. The latter events are run as tightly-controlled businesses with huge television revenues.

The Commonwealth Games, trying to shed the Empire image, have come up with the idea of the “friendly games”. However, as Delhi shows, this concept can result in making enemies not friends.

Delhi won the Games by paying around £5m to the Commonwealth Games Federation and, with it, freedom to organise them much as it likes.

The Federation does send an inspection team to check on progress. However, two representatives, including its president Mike Fennell, also sit on the organising committee.

The result is that the criticisms of the inspectors, while privately strong, tend to be muted in public.

This is in stark contrast with the IOC. In the run-up to the 2004 Athens Games, the then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, worried about the lack of progress, publicly said he was showing the Greeks a yellow card.

This forced the Greek government to change the organising committee and Athens just managed to meet the deadline.

In Delhi, as Austin Sealy, the treasurer of the Commonwealth Games Federation, who has also been the head of the inspection team says, “We have warned the organisers repeatedly. Only in May on my last visit I said time is not your friend. Our president was on the committee and pressed the points but we do not make a song and dance about it.”

The Federation tried to get round this by moving its chief executive, Mike Hooper, to Delhi three years ago.

As one high official put it, “After the Indians got the Games in 2003, they did nothing for the first three years and we had to gee them up.” But the relationship with Hooper got so bad that, last year, the Indians wanted to expel the New Zealander. Hooper and the Indians have since claimed to have kissed and made up.

But this rift illustrated the fact that the Indians would not accept any advice, let alone criticisms from foreigners, particularly white foreigners.

As one senior member of the Federation told me, “In Beijing, the Indian Sports Minister, Mr Gill, told me very bluntly, ‘We do not want white people telling us how to organise. We shall do it our Indian way.'”

The British were very keen to help the Indians, having played a part in getting India the Games. The Delhi decision had come as London was seeking allies to beat favourites Paris for 2012. Just before the vote, Lord Coe, whose mother was of Indian origin, visited India for the first time.

He struck a deal: Britain helps India get the Games – they only had only twice previously been awarded to a non-white country – in return for India marshalling non-white Commonwealth support for London 2012.

But, while the Indo-British partnership worked like a dream, having got the games, the Indians spurned any of the British offers of help. The British felt their experience of the successful Manchester Games could be useful to the Indians.

But, as Jowell told me, “I made numerous visits to Delhi and offered help but this was never taken up.” Indeed there were British offers of help even during last month’s visit to Delhi by David Cameron.

That the Indians could have done with advice is not in doubt. Delhi’s previous experience of organising a multi-sports event was the Asian Games back in 1982, a world removed from 2010. So, instead of one body being in charge of all the development, the Indians had a plethora of organisations.

The result: the athletes’ village which, last week, was condemned as unfit for human habitation was the responsibility, not of the organising committee, but of the Delhi Development Authority, run by the local government.

Warning signs that such constructions could cause problems for the Indians were given two years ago. Then in Pune, the Indians held the Commonwealth Youth Games in preparation for Delhi.

As a result of contractual problems, the Pune athletes’ village was not ready and competitors had to make do with inadequate facilities. But Pune’s failures did not receive much publicity and it was all glossed over.

The problems of the Delhi village were highlighted in January after a human rights group filed a public interest lawsuit.

A High Court- appointed committee inspected the living conditions at the Games work sites, including the athletes’ village, and found, “Across sites, on an average, one toilet is available for 114 workers; workers, in the absence of adequate number of toilets at sites, are forced to defecate in the open.”

“At many locations, toilets are cleaned only on a weekly or monthly basis and not every day.” The committee found that, at one of the workers’ camps, on average four workers were sharing a 50 square foot room and “there were no beddings provided except for a plywood [plank]. It is a pity that it is called a bed.”

But, as with the Pune Games, these concerns were ignored with many of the organisers worried that, if too much were made of them, the Games could be jeopardised.

Last week, the international spotlight has meant the problems could not be brushed away.

Congress MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former sports minister, suggests it indicates that we may be facing an Indian middle class schizophrenia: Indians do not care for their own poor but for the feelings of Australian discus throwers and Canadian archers.

“People in India think ceilings can fall on poor people but they must not fall on athletes.” But, however the Indians come to terms with their neurosis, the drama of the Delhi Games has raised the question of what the Commonwealth Games are for.

Even before this week’s withdrawal of high-profile athletes, such as Usain Bolt and Sir Chris Hoy, reinforced the fact that, unlike the Olympics, the Games are not the ultimate test of sporting prowess.

They are more like inter-house matches at public school. They may be entertaining but signify little. When they are well organised they have a place in the sporting calendar. But to make a wider mark they need to resonate beyond the field of play.

The tragedy for the Delhi Games is that they have failed in this endeavour even before the sport has begun.


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