The drama of Delhi

Tomorrow the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), proprietor of the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, will convene yet another General Assembly. Unlike many of these Assemblies this one promises to be very acrimonious and reminiscent of the one held two years ago in The Gambia. The latter was held following the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India.
Two days from now, 3 October 2010, the Commonwealth Games will begin in Delhi.

Several years ago the National Olympic Committee of India which doubles as that country’s Commonwealth Games Association (CGA), much like what obtains in many other countries including our own St Vincent and the Grenadines, submitted a bid to host the Commonwealth Games of 2010.
Unfortunately for the Commonwealth Games Federation, the rules governing the bid process were quite lax. There were two contending cities, Hamilton, Canada and Delhi, India. Representatives of both cities, their respective governments and the country’s Commonwealth Games Associations took time to engage the attention of CGAs across the Commonwealth with the intention of garnering their support at the time of the vote.
The General Assembly at which the vote was taken took place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in 2004. Each of the contesting cities was given an opportunity to make a final presentation to the General Assembly. Hamilton went first and Delhi followed immediately.
From all appearances Delhi knew that it was well behind Hamilton in the process and needed to do something special if it were to win.
The surprise came at the end of the Delhi presentation when President of the NOC/CGA, a Minister of Government in India, Suresh Khalmadi, told the gathering, “And finally, we will give each CGA $100,000 USD and this shall be without condition”.
The leadership of the CGF found themselves in a quandary about which they could do nothing. There was nothing in the Rules that prevented such an offer at the very last minute.
The reaction was immediate. One delegate raised his hands and sought a response to a very simple but significant question. He asked of Khalmadi, “How soon?” In response the impression was given that the money was already available and that not long after the General Assembly had concluded the CGA could begin drawing down on it.
Delhi won and Hamilton left a very dejected competitor.
Of course, the CGF had to step in.
In the first instance it appeared that Khalmadi did not seek the Indian government’s input before making the offer and therefore it was not necessarily as forthcoming as he left the Assembly believing.
Secondly, the date kept shifting.
Thirdly, the CGF insisted that each CGA would have had to submit a detailed programme of activities intended for use of the monies whenever available, before they could be considered eligible to receive same.
Having won the Commonwealth Games for 2010 the Indian CGA also had to host the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008. The Rules of the CGF at the time stipulated this particular condition.
Interestingly, the CGF has since changed its Rules. In respect of bidding, all cities involved in the contest must declare all aspects of their respective bids by a certain date. They can make changes up to a specified time and thereafter there can be no alterations.
Secondly, the Commonwealth Youth Games can be bid for separately by any CGA. This event is no longer automatically tied to the city that wins the bid to host the Commonwealth Games.
Pune – a premonition
In many respects the Commonwealth Youth Games held in Pune, India, failed to meet expectations. The Games Village was a brilliant idea and so too the concept of the Games city.
Plans revealed a decision to host the Games in Pune, the main city in Khalmadi’s constituency. The idea was to create what would later serve India as a High Performance Training Centre (HPTC), a great legacy.
Unfortunately, as things usually go, there were incessant delays, especially in the construction of the Games Village.
At the time of the Youth Games the Games Village was still under construction. The work had actually stopped to facilitate the Games.
Initially water was a problem. Early residents in the Games Village found themselves held hostage to frequent water shortages.
Even after the Games had started there were problems with rats in the Games Village where no floor seemed exempt.
Little effort was made to ensure that the construction areas were cleaned up.
The Games venues while good were not all quite complete and there was not enough time to address the matter of the landscaping so that there was dust everywhere.
Embarrassed, the CGF leadership found themselves shaving to get themselves involved in the administration of the Youth Games.
At the General Assembly in The Gambia following the conclusion of the Youth Games, many of the CGAs spared nothing. They lambasted the organisers of the event in Pune and chided all concerned.
In response the Indians got mad. At one time it appeared that the latter would cancel the Commonwealth Games of 2010.
The point had to be made that while it is good that India bid for and won the right to host the Games they cannot expect that whatever they deliver must be acceptable to all. They must understand that certain standards must be met and maintained or the very future of the event would be compromised.
To many, the approach of the Indian CGA was such that there was an apparent lack of concern for excellence and a sort of ready acceptance of mediocrity. The CGAs did not accept this.
In many respects the CGAs told the Indian CGA that if what obtained in Pune was anything to go by then they feared for what would happen in Delhi two years later.
It appears that they were correct.
CGF General Assembly 2009
Last year the CGF’s General Assembly was convened in Delhi, host of this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Prior to the General Assembly a letter from the President of the CGF, Michael Fennell, to the Indian Minister of Sport, found its way in the international media. Essentially the President was expressing grave concern about the pace of work on the several venues needed for the success of the pending Commonwealth Games.
At the Assembly and even before the Indian delegation made its presentation the Minister of Sport acknowledged that there were numerous problems but gave the assurance that the Indian government had taken on board the concerned of the CGF and the matter would be appropriately handled.
The Organising Committee delivered a report on the progress of its preparations for the Games and participants at the Assembly were given guided tours of the various venues.
The report was threadbare. It was lacking in substance in many areas and the representatives of CGAs readily pointed to the several areas of weakness.
Initially the Indian delegation responded that they were on top of things. The CGA present did not agree.
The CGAs appealed for an opportunity to be of assistance without wanting it to appear that the Indians did not know what they were doing.
Some CGAs prevailed on the CGF at the Assembly to establish a Special Commission to engage in closer monitoring of the progress and make recommendations where necessary. Shortly after the Assembly however CGAs were informed that the President of the CGF, Michael Fennell, had decided that this was no longer necessary.
The CGF had someone closely monitoring developments in Delhi and reporting directly to the President.
The Games are here
In the lead up to the final stages before the Games the CGF found itself with its back against the wall.
Suddenly the media found more than enough to deal with. In India itself the revelations about corruption in several areas relative to the preparations for the Games left a sour taste.
It is usually the case that whenever corruption is raised relative to construction projects there could well be shoddy work. Some seem to suggest that the collapse of a bridge linked to the main stadium of the Games where the Opening Ceremony is being held could well be a fitting example of this.
Suddenly the CGF, custodian of the Commonwealth Games, found itself yet again in murky waters. Ultimately it carries much responsibility.
One may readily recall the problems the International Olympic Committee (IOC) encountered at the commencement of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, had to bite the bullet in the face of the stinging media criticisms and have IBM respond to the problems in rapid-fire time.
One is not sure whether the CGF can do the same. In any event the situation may be too far gone.
It is nonetheless clear that the Games Village is a major cause of worry. Every delegation that has so far arrived in the Village has had to call on its members to assist with the cleaning of the facility to make it appropriately habitable.
Many are concerned about the safety of the facilities given the mishaps that have already occurred.
The mater of security remains a major concern but this latter aspect has been with us all since 911 and no one wishes to surrender to terrorists.
At tomorrow’s General Assembly the CGF will feel the brunt of the ire of the CGAs and the organising Committee will feel their wrath; all this before the official start of the Games.
Everyone will be hoping that somehow the competition would be of such a high standard that it would attract the media more than the problems. This however does not seem likely given the number of top athletes in several disciplines who have opted out of the Games, especially in the past weeks when the problems were globally highlighted.