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:
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.