M A I N   N E W S

Games may add another jewel in India’s crown
M.S. Unnikrishnan

Hyderabad, October 23
When the idea of organising an inter-continental games among the countries of Asia and Africa germinated in the early 90s, it was considered a preposterous proposition, on the premise that there was very little space to squeeze in a games of such magnitude between the Asian Games, the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the South Asia Federation Games, the world championships and myriad other national games and championships.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) persisted with the idea, worked towards realising its goal, and with a political leadership that was willing to play along, albeit after a lot of cajoling and convincing, the idea sprouted into a seedling. When everything was getting in place to hold the inaugural Afro-Asian Games in New Delhi from November 3 to 11, 2001, the hidden hands of terrorism inflicted the most unexpected and lethal blow as suicide-pilots blasted through the towering twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York on September 11, 2001, to reduce them to rubble. The newly sprouted Afro-Asian Games seedling seemed to have got buried under the debris of the WTC for ever with just one stroke of that lightening blast, as the prospects of the games being staged became remote.

The US assault on Afghanistan and the US intervention in Iraq put more question marks on the Afro-Asiad. But the never-say-die spirit of the sports leadership of India got infused when Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu offered to host the games after successfully conducting the 32nd National Games at the newly-created sports facility at Gachhibowli, about 25km from Hyderabad. The political leadership lapped up the idea and the IOA once again got activated, and its President Suresh Kalmadi and Secretary-General Randhir Singh worked overtime to make the games a reality, never mind the mind-boggling cost involved in hosting the games. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee too warmed upto the idea, which made the tasks easier for the top brass of Indian sports. A little more convincing here and there eventually set the ball rolling for concretising the plans for the games, and now, here we are, on the threshold of a historic moment.

The Central Government granted Rs 126 crore for hosting the games and Mr Naidu, during a tele-conference with journalists recently, had claimed that Rs 200 crore had already been spent for conducting the games. This amount was over and above a couple of crores spent for renovating the stadiums in Delhi in preparation of the postponed games in 2000-2001.

The Asian and African countries agreed to send their athletes-in many cases, their second string-when hosts India promised to provide free travel and hospitality. Perhaps, no other Asian or African country would have come forward to underwrite such ming-boggling sums to organise a 'friendship games' to foster the theme of 'Two continents. One spirit'.

India is famous for its 'hospitality' and the Afro-Asian Games is yet another reckless instance of how public funds could be wasted on non-priority issues and sectors. Mr Kalmadi had recently admitted that during the past few years, sports infrastructure worth over Rs 1700 crore had been created all over the country, though he could not explain it convincingly whether these facilities were being put to optimum use and maintained well. Sadly, they are not and though games like the Afro-Asiad help create new infrastructure, but they are left uncared for once the games are over.

Mr Chandrababu Naidu has, however, promised to take care of the Gachhibowli complex after the completion of the games as he was planning to earmark a substantial amount from the earnings of the games for the maintenance of the stadia, and the job was likely to be entrusted to the International Management Group. That Mr Naidu sounded serious in his intention became evident when he built a brand new hockey stadium with two synthetic turfs at the Gachhibowli complex itself, with one turf having floodlight facilities.

Yet, the pertinent question that craves for an answer, is: Can a country of India's impoverishment and unemployment afford to squander so much money for hosting a 'friendship games'? Frankly, not many people are enthused by the games in this city of pearls. Life goes on as usual, though mounting traffic-jams break the tempo of travel at every intersection and traffic signal. But the huge hoardings welcoming people to the games make interesting sights, though.

Hyderabad's perennial cry for more water seems to have been answered by the rain gods as for the past five days, the city has been experiencing intermittent to heavy rains. People are happy that the city is getting wet, but the organisers put a creased face on the eve of the opening ceremony as another spell of rain may act as a spoilsport to ruin the plans for a well-mounted opening ceremony, with Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishan Advani and Congress President Sonia Gandhi expected to be the guests of honour. The Prime Minister and the President are slated to attend the closing ceremony on November 1.

To those inveterate critics of the Afro-Asian Games, one poser thrown at by the supporters of the games is that India was the originator of the Asian Games in 1951, and the Afro-Asian Games may well add yet another jewel on India's crown, though it's doubtful any other country in the two continents would come forward to host of the games free of charge, with everyone getting everything on the house except, of course the common people--the spectators. As they say, they also serve who stand and stare...

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