Games In Developing Countries: The False Symbols of Glory

Posted on November 8, 2010 in Sports

By Amar Tejaswi:

August 8, 2008, Beijing. The sun rises in the east but for once it emerged from the chasms at night, never to set again. The Bird’s Nest glittered with pride as the world stood gaping. China bedazzled the world as it painted the night sky with colours, the green of money, the yellow of prosperity and the red of westernisation.

June 11, 2010, Johannesburg. A blue crane rose from the dark jungles of Africa to stun the world with its brilliance. The deafening blare of vuvuzelas filled the South African air with jubilance but elsewhere it was the sound of the ascent of Africa on to the world stage.

October 3, 2010, New Delhi. Burnt down long before the outset, the phoenix rose from its own ashes to embolden the multitude. India was buoyed to higher elevation just like the $10 million dollars helium balloon. The balloon, though, could not rise above the stadium.

The latest of the world’s three biggest sporting spectacles, the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games were hosted by developing countries. While the Beijing and Johannesburg events were acclaimed for the sheer magnificence with which they were conducted, the Delhi event was mired in controversy exposing the hazards of hosting such an event in a developing country. The ominous signs adhesively stuck to the darkened clouds looming over Delhi were, nevertheless, shoved away.

A myriad questions arise when a developing country hosts a sporting event with a multi-billion dollar price tag. If the event passes off flawlessly or is deemed the best ever, these questions pass away, unnoticed, like a flock of birds above our heads. But if complications occur, like in Delhi, questions multiply and multiply until someone’s tombstone is engraved. And then they would fly away like the flock of birds they otherwise would have been. Questions about people displaced and vendors evicted started confronting the OC (Organising Committee) when shoddy preparations in the run-up to the event were highlighted. But had the preparations gone off smoothly? Would we have asked those questions we are asking now? Would we have thought about the people displaced and many more affected indirectly? In China, the number of displaced people was 1.5 million. No questions asked!

The moot point here is: should developing countries be hosting such mega-events? My opinion is a resounding NO.

The Games budget inflated to about Rs. 300 billion. It is more than our budget for education, even more than our budget for health. We don’t have godowns to store grains but built and renovated stadiums for a week long sports event. We forcefully evicted our people and built apartments for foreign sportsmen’s fortnight long stay. About three hundred people were displaced and many more lost their livelihood. In China, the number was 1.5 million and the Olympics budget was close to Rs. 1600 billion. Evictions took place in South Africa too.

Is the desire to host an international event so potent that we have to harm our own self? The problem lies in the fact that we revel in false symbols of glory. A country does not become developed if it hosts an event or builds a hi-fi airport terminal. It does so when it builds the capacity to feed each one of its citizens. These events sure give a thrust to infrastructure development, but if we really want to develop our infrastructure, we can do it without having to host such events too. Sporting events should be held only if the required infrastructure is already in place, but not the other way round. Hosting international events is a task best left to the west.

China ostentatiously hosted the Olympics expecting recognition as a super power. Like India, China too mistook the hosting of Olympics to be a symbol of power. Both India and China are guilty of using the wrong platform to project themselves bearing unprecedented costs, only difference is China succeeded and India failed.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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