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Delhi CWG vs. Beijing Olympics

Op-Ed Commentary: Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Oct. 15 – As the Commonwealth Games in Delhi have now drawn to a close, we can take stock of what happened, and also compare them with China’s experience with the Olympics.

India handled the 2010 Commonwealth Games well in many respects, even with the controversy over hygiene, facilities and so on. What has really mattered is that at the end of the day, India pulled it off. When the athletes took their places in the various stadiums, they have performed. Yesterday marked the final day of the Games, and India will benefit greatly from it. Here’s why:

Media exposure
India and the Games have attracted a great deal of negative publicity. However, I have traveled to Delhi countless times (our firm has an office there) and can assure you it is not the “cesspool” that many suggest. Rather more, there have been an abundance of negative stories based on the fact that for many journalists, this is their first time to India. It is true that India is an assault on the senses for the uninitiated. Cattle wandering the main roads, for example, makes India appear more rural in its urban centers than it actually is. Yet, welcome to the land of the sacred cow. Journalists who have visited will go back to their desks and will talk it up as an adventure. For sure, not all of it will be positive, but as I experienced with my early first trips, the fonder memories will stick out. The very journalists who have been negative about India and the Commonwealth Games, will, I am sure, be among the first to put themselves forward if asked to return.

They actually did it
It’s the country’s recent attempt at a major event. By contrast, China has been used to hosting international events for over 20 years – the Asian Games were first held in Beijing, China in 1990. Until that time, India was actually ahead – having hosted the Games in Delhi previously in 1951 and 1982. But since that time, India’s desire to host international events waned after several prime ministerial assassinations. The man behind the Delhi 1982 Asian Games, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated in 1991, plunging India into an era of withdrawal from hosting events much like what has now occurred in Pakistan. China meanwhile surged ahead. The fact that India has pulled off its first major international event since 1982 demonstrates how much more confident and competent the nation has become. In terms of security, the Games come just two years after the dreadful Mumbai attacks, a terrorist situation of the type that China has fortunately not had to face. Yet the security aspects of hosting major and regular events in India appear to have been solved. The private sector (rather than China’s totally controlling state sector) can take much of the credit. The running of a successful Commonwealth Games comes very much hand in hand with the success of regular cricket tournaments on a national basis, and in particular the Indian Premier League of cricket. It’s India’s first national league, regularly playing to packed stadiums nationwide, and India has learned a lot from this. It’s the policing and crowd control obtained from such experiences that is moving India’s capabilities in this respect closer to the standards upheld in China.

Delhi vs. Beijing
While the Delhi Commonwealth Games have inevitably been compared with the Beijing Olympics, consider this. India spent US$4.6 billion on hosting the Commonwealth Games, an event about a third of the size of the Olympics (71 teams against 204 teams). China spent US$70 billion on the Olympics – 15 times more on an event just three times bigger. The point being that the comparisons in amount spent will dictate the Delhi Games were never going to be able to compete with the sheer grandeur of China’s 2008 Olympics. There would have been outcry if they had – India as a democracy has the right to public voice, and India has plenty of mouths to feed. Such fiscal prudence, while it didn’t match the spectacle of the China event, didn’t take as much money away from the people as China’s Communist Party did from theirs, and India should be commended for that.

Next up – Formula One
It’s not the last time you’ll be hearing of India or Delhi being associated with international sporting events either. India is now on the Formula One Grand Prix Circuit, and next season’s competition will add Delhi to the list of circuits. India also has something China does not – a competing team. Force India, a team formed in 2007 by a consortium led by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and Michiel Mol, bought the Spyker F1 team for US$124 million. An Indian team competing in Delhi – now that’s going to be an event well worth attending.

At the end of the day, despite all the criticism and the inevitable comparisons with China, India’s Commonwealth Games have proven a success for a country still adapting and emerging from decades of neglect and disarray. They weren’t perfect, but India will learn from this and will move on. India’s Commonwealth Games worked. They represent a platform for a newly resurgent nation, and as such, showed off India’s capabilities rather well. And how did they do in the medals tables? India came second, and I’m sure they’re happy with that. It’s never been about having to win all the time. For India, it’s been about learning and participating. And that they did rather well.

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30 Responses to Delhi CWG vs. Beijing Olympics

  1. Govinda Rajan E says:

    A truly unbiased article. Well said.

  2. Kunal says:

    Nice Article.

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Another comparison – Guangzhou has reportedly spent USD16billion on the Asian Games it is hosting next month. That’s the equivilent of an entire years fiscal revenue for the city, so Beijing must be subsidizing it. That is three and a half times more than India as a nation spent on the CWG.

  4. Cris H. says:

    I don’t think the CWG is considered a success. Cost comparison is unrealistic. Cities which already have stadiums and descent college dormitories nearby would be able to run the games at minimum cost. We only need to focus on the end result.

    The CWG did not improve the image of New Delhi as world class destination for tourism. It’s massively mismanaged that New Delhi had more outbound tourists than international. The stadiums were left empty rather than letting lower class people to fill in the space. Vast majority of the citizens are still living in poverty while a handful few are holding a private club like event.

  5. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    @Cris – it depends upon how you consider success. The Games went ahead, athletes were happy, and no major incidents. I may also add that for much of India’s media – which can be self-critical to the extreme (depending on whose funding the TV station) and is often politically biased – if those Indian journalists had been in China and were Chinese, they’d have been locked up for subversion.
    China and India converge rather here: China censors bad publicity, India’s political parties talk it up. But the aims are essentially the same. Don’t believe all you read / see in Indian media. You’re also in a country that won’t send you to prison for it.
    Overall, as I said, it could have been better. But India will learn from it. Bombay wasn’t built in a day. Thanks – Chris

  6. vikas says:

    hmm!!!
    yaa!! being an indian i have the right to speak against govt..if things are not happening well..we are the most populated.here a prime minister and a slum boy have equal right..this is not like china where we have to go in cell to speak against govt..
    and we have proven it in cwg…here everybody are free to stand up against govt .. ie.media, poor, literate, illitrate, minister, student even beggar..we have more than 100 political parties..

  7. Mark says:

    “Guangzhou has reportedly spent USD16billion on the Asian Games it is hosting next month”

    I’m guessing that number includes everything like expanding the metro to its large current size.

    The Delhi figure is for costs directly associated with the games.

    I hope you don’t give clients such misleading numbers.

  8. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    @Mark – and you’re guessing? The figure was the amount for hosting the Games, the metro upgrade came out of the last 5 year plan expenditure. Different budgets. – Chris

  9. Curious says:

    I’m happy India managed to pull it off (you see I like India and I’m overseas Chinese). Chris, why do you have to put down or undermine China to make your points? India and China have 2 very different systems, and I find this very interesting. I’m of the opinion that no one system is superior to the other. What matters is what works. Chris, it seems to me you see things in black and white. Maybe you should seek to broaden your horizon to be able to write more balanced articles in future?

    Last but not least, I sincerely wish India the best in its pursuit of economic development.

  10. Deek says:

    Chris:

    1. Curious is right. Your articles have an Indian tilt. Maybe you have a liking for the country..or you are targeting the Indian readers..but the tilt is definitely there. (Note: I am an overseas Indian).

    2. There is no comparison of beijing and delhi opening ceremonies. They were at 2 different scales, levels, audiences, aspirations, and perfection.

    3. If we put aside all these differences, then beijing ceremony was definitely better than the delhi ceremony. No doubt about that.

    4. Today I watched beijing ceremony again..and this is what I felt after watching the two:

    beijing ceremony was “crisp”,”sharp” and “grand”. delhi ceremony was “soft”, “lively”, and “playful”.

    My immediate reaction after watching the Beijing ceremony was “WOW”. My jaw was dropped..eyes were wide…heart was pumping in anticipation of next grand scene..and there was an “awe” factor. Definitely.

    My immediate reaction after watching the Delhi ceremony was “smile”…and “innocent joy”

    I can give a hollywood analogy: It was like watching “Elizabeth or Gladiator” vs watching “Slumdog millionaire”. Both won oscars…and both were good. But the feeling that they generated were different.

  11. Deek says:

    Some more salient points:

    1. We can consider the ceremonies as the display of common man’s psyche in 2 countries. I know its true for India…and hope that its true for china also. If thats true..then China appears to be “sharp”, “focused”, and “disciplined”. In contrast, India appears to be “smiling”, and “lively”. These are 2 extremes, and I believe that in future both countries have to work towards attaining others’ skills in having a prosperous and better life. Now, I am not saying that everyone in china is “disciplined” and everyone in India is “free-going”. Corporate culture in India is very “tough” and “demanding”. Similarly, Chinese families like to have fun and “lively” time at home. This is a general statement for the nations’ psyche at large.

    2. One notable event was the booing of Kalmadi during the ceremony. It appears a small thing, but infact is one of the biggest “differentiators” between 2 ceremonies…and the culture. On top of that if we look at how the domestic media stripped off top politicians and their shoddy work…is very commendable.

    3. One another very important “domestic” factor: First time, India showcased its cultural heritage from the North East region. Indian contingent was led by a girl wearing Mizo traditional dress (“puanchei”). Many of readers will not be able to understand its significance, but it was perhaps one of the biggest factors that shows the way country is moving forward. Mizoram (with a population of ~1 million) is a small and culturally rich state. Leading 1 billion at the largest event in the country signifies something larger than the event itself. If you search Internet, you will find that this was a very “emotional” event for Mizos. Not only that, the ceremony celebrated the cultures from Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Assam, and other parts of North east. If an event is able to make someone’s eyes moist, then you bet…it is successful.

  12. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Guys thanks – no comparison between Delhi & Beijing, I agree, I was at both. But then, as I pointed out, Beijing spent USD70billion on the Olympics. India, as a democracy, is unable to do that. As for the Asian Games, I find that amount obscene to spend on a relatively regional event. China is blowing its money on self congratulatory gestures. India is being rather more pragmatic, and I’m more comfortable with the latter. Thanks – Chris

  13. sandind says:

    I agree the Chinese ceremony was better organised and grand while India’s was nice and entertaining.

    The Delhi Metro would have been extended anyways..so the expense is being overstated…and do remember China actually spent 70 billion while Indian officials ‘claim’ to have spent 5 billion or so..Ofcourse, they have siphoned off lot of it themselves..

    Forget hosting games, lets talk about athletes.The grand budget of Govt of India for training athletes for over 2 years across all disciplines and incl Asian games is USD 100 Mill only..while Im sure China spends a few billions on sports…The good thing is its changing and private people are taking this in our hands…with some govt help.eg: Mittal sports trust, Olympic Gold quest & army’s Mission Olympic….the point being that I will be happy to see Indian gymnasts challenge the Chinese in 2016 Olympics..till 2012 London it will be status quo..but then thats how long sports excellence takes to develop…but watch out..Indians are quite talented across disciplines..and might spring a few surprises..

  14. Howard says:

    I dont know where this $70B figure about Beijing Olympics comes from. The official figure told a different story if you count only the investment for the games, rather than money put on new airport terminals, extended subways, relocated factories and other infrastructure spendings.

  15. Fingers says:

    Sandind, I would be happy to see more Indian representations on the medal podium too. While Chinese’s traditional dominance in a few sports are the results of state propaganda, it’s strength in many sports nowadays are reflecting the overall proliferation of sports participation, the plethora of national tournaments, and better pubic health. This shall be the case in India in the foreseeable future as the Indian middle class population grows larger and larger.

  16. Fingers says:

    As pointed out in your article, Delhi CWG and Beijing Olymoics are not readily comparable by nature. Even so, one may try; sadly I don’t see any meaningful comparison in yours. 

    Anyway, I just want to point out that it is such a trite motif to explain away India’s limitations as a result of democracy and China’s success as that of total state control. If one thinks there is shortage of criticism about Beijing olympics in Chinese media and websites, one is delusional. The Guangzhou Asiad has constantly been under the criticism by the city’s residents. As for the state versus private sector debate, the Beijing Olympics was a HUGE business for the olympics council, the many sponsors and suppliers, not to mention the direct and long term benefits in the city’s retail, tourism and property markets (mostly private sectors).   

    On the other hand, the collapse of the bridge in the CWG venue is hardly a result of Indian democracy. It is also nothing quite democratic for the organizer to mobilize thousands of people last minutes to fix things up (without which the game would be a total disaster); it’s pure money talk in this sudden swell of manpower.  

    The CWG opening had a singular theme: to showcase India’s heritage. The presentation technique was conventional; perhaps it was due to budget constraints, or perhaps breaking new ground in theatrical techniques was not the goal to begin with and hence the lower budget, who knows. But the end product was quite a successful one without any observable hiccup. The olympics opening theme was multidimensional. Firstly, it attempted to tell a narrative about China’s long history of interacting with the world (invention of paper and movable type, silk road, Zheng He’s voyage etc). Secondly, it wanted to make environmental protection the country’s and the world’s aggenda (the children painting segment). Lastly, it wanted to celebrate the spirit of the sports (acrobatic dancing around the giant globe, the torch lighting). To add, it appears that ground breaking thetrical technologies to top the olympics the come before is a must these days, and Beijing did not take the exception, although one could argue that it is an unhealthy trend. So you see, the goals, the standards and the stakes in the two events are quite different to begin with. Perhaps Beijing could tone down the olympics grandeur a little, but let’s just for the sake of argument to assume that the opening as we know it is what they really want to deliver, we can only say they were wasteful only if they spent mor than they needed to produce that end product.    

    So my point is, stop attributing everything India vs. China to democracy vs. autocracy, it only does more to muddle than to elucidate. Do the hard work in writing, and give credit where credit is due.

  17. Ijaz Jabbar says:

    I came to know of the combination of 4 websites a few months ago and I should seriously say that what you guys do is real journalisum. Totally unbiased , tottaly frank..I read some of the comments. Some people think that the writer is biased to one side which he honestly tried to correct putting out facts and I am seriously convinced.

    Secondly, no one likes to think that their country is being pushed from NO:1 spot to the second. One thing all should keep in mind is that if its India today, tomorrow will be Brazil, then we have the whole Africa waiting for their chance and may out perform all of us.

    In short, it should be understood that a spot in the ranking is not permanent and you can’t expect it to be. That makes a lot of sense.

  18. ankit kumar says:

    i don’t think that cwg was better then beijing olympic.infect beijing was lakh time best then india.the infrastructure,amazing fireworks and technology was wonderfull. The opening and closing ceremony were so awesom.and i think such an amazing game can’t be organise in future.

  19. ankit kumar says:

    china is a country which has a very powerful historical ,financial,geographical.cultural,technological and social condition as compare to india.in its past china was flourishing, in its present it is flourishing, and that day is not far away when china will be leading the world. China has been shown its power in olympics. There is no any thing in india which can be compared to china.”CHINA IS GREAT”

  20. Mak says:

    CD-E. I agree with Curious. You have a pretty strong bias towards India. You make it pretty clear from your writings that you believe (or hope) that India’s democracy will “win” in the end.

    You are of course welcome to your own views. However, I would say that such an obvious leaning detracts from what I your website seems to represent, which is a balanced view on the development of these two important economies that are developing in different ways. Instead of asking the right questions to understand how the economies have evolved in their own ways, you turn everything into a competition between the two. And your obvious desire for India to “win” significantly skews your analysis.

  21. ankit kumar says:

    CHINA-THE ONE AND ONLY WONDER OF THE WORLD

  22. Michael says:

    I agree with Mak, CD-E is a obvious Pro-India Anti-China hypocrite! Everything negative about India always come with ” HOWEVER” and anything positive about China always has a ” BUT”!!! India is simply the biggest lemon being oversold to the world….full stop!

  23. Thomas says:

    “Beijing spent USD70billion on the Olympics. India, as a democracy, is unable to do that”

    First of all, Beijing spent $40 billion in total and $38 billion of the budget went into infrastructure which was sorely needed and will benefit the citizens of Beijing for a generation and more with only $2 billion going into actual games related projects. India on other hand lied about the actual cost of the games from the beginning saying that it would only cost $500 million and then running up a total tab of $8-10 billion ( even more is my guess) due to incompetence and corruption!

  24. Matt says:

    India should be commended for not spending as much as China on an international sporting event? Firstly, India does not have enough money to spend as much as China did. Secondly, much of China’s spending went into infrastructure. When you actually think about it, which of the funds were more EFFECTIVELY used? It seems as though all the money India spent was just wasted.
    Clearly, China has money to burn. India does not. Even with China burning all that money, it still manages to feed its population and improve the lifestyles of the people while India can not even do that (45% of Indians live under $1 a day).
    In conclusion, whilst India is trying, it cannot be compared to China. China is decades ahead. That is the truth.

  25. Michael says:

    All I can say is WOW!!! The democratic idealistic Indian supporters will spin everything wrong and disgusting about India in a positive light…even Toddler slave labor during the CWG’s is sugar coated in the India Shining image. Well done, well done, however reality speaks for itself and India is nothing more than the biggest lemon being oversold to this world and this article epitomizes this!

  26. Zhou Zhang says:

    I know Delhi CWG had glitches and were controversy-ridden, but they were a huge success. I am a Chinese and I found Delhi CWG as interesting as the Beijing Olympics. The negative reports were hugely exaggerated and the Indian event was pretty much a success as the athletes had later confessed.
    The Indian Grand Prix which ended yesterday must have put to rest most of the anti-India goons.
    Love, from China.

  27. Prabhat tripathi says:

    thanks zhou zhang…..I am proud to be an indian and i like MY Delhi cwg…

  28. Prabhat tripathi says:

    i am an Indian..i know there is no comparison between Indian CWG and Beijing Olympic…
    Olympics is always a bigger evnt than CWG, but i want to clear the mentality of all the western people that, now power is shifted towards Asian countries (mainly India, China & japan), here i wanna say that New Delhi cwg was the first platform through which Indians show their prosperity, and capability to do something big…as time passes these events even better than New Delhi CWG…you can see the first Indian grand Prix, there is no negative statements by Indian media, one of the best racing track, high security systems, joyful and lively organised event…now kid is going to be an adult..!!!!

  29. abhinav says:

    Yeah…! China’s olympics cannot b compared with Delhi cwg….the politicians of our country spend little on cwg and filled there pocket’s with more than half of indias cwg budget….hopefully we will perform well the next time but the thing what makes me happy is that even the criticisers from western countries are astonished to see the arrangements made by China and a little from India and this proves that the powers of western countries is shifting towards Asian countries…even when the whole world were fighting with there financial problems then the Asian countries like China and India showed the way to every world……

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