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Retrofit: Making sense of the Commonwealth Games chaos

Guest Column
Retrofit: Making sense of the Commonwealth Games chaos

Author | Sandeep Bamzai | Wednesday, Dec 09,2009 8:09 AM

Guest Column<br>Retrofit:  Making sense of the Commonwealth Games chaos

Too much knowledge and too little knowledge are both dangerous. Sometimes, the arrogance of foreign media when they cover Indian events is most galling. In the past, I have highlighted how foreign media has literally translated UPA Government’s draw card – aam aadmi – as Mango Man, but last week, I read an interesting and insightful piece in a Kiwi paper. Yes, a New Zealand paper called NZ Herald.

Now, why would New Zealanders be interested in India, one may ask? Well, the CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation is a New Zealander. His name is Mike Hooper. The same Hooper who was caught in an ugly maelstrom when CWG Organising Committee boss Suresh Kalmadi tried to evict him from the Games Headquarters, saying that he was an impediment. It all got out of hand till a rapprochement was effected in London during the Queen’s Baton relay function.

Now, Hooper is a brave man for he has to weather the vicissitudes of Delhi and India. Isn’t it tough to survive in a city where his daily diary reads like this – anti-terrorism (tick), security (tick), politics (tick), telling it like it is (tick), maintaining the Commonwealth Games status (tick), and of course, eating fiery curries (postponed). In the hurly-burly of a developing Delhi, Kiwi Hooper is struggling to come to terms with all its many splendoured vagaries. It is typical of a white man to categorise India in such small and cliched compartments. Snake charmers and elephants seem to be missing though. When will the white man understand that India despite its acute poverty is changing rapidly? Unfortunately, the crisis over the Games infrastructure isn’t helping our image. Nor is Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot’s boorish behaviour absolving us of our inefficiency.

But back to NZ Herald, which reckons that as far as global sports administration jobs are concerned, Hooper has one with levels of stress that bring a fire in the belly unrelated to anything accompanied by the word ‘vindaloo’. Incidentally, vindaloo is not a north Indian curry, but has its origins in Goa. Once again throwing into stark relief the role that clueless foreign media play in distorting things ‘Indian’. To the Herald’s credit, they have not painted the rest of the Commonwealth Games completion schedule in dark hues. In fact, they have shown Hooper as a go-getter who is trying to adjust to the Indian pace of things. Hooper is also quoted as saying that even at Melbourne in 2006 some of the stadia were behind schedule. An attempt to humanise Hooper, even at the limited cost of demonising the rest of Delhi. It portrays the picture of an accommodative individual who is simply doing his job.

The Herald writes: For the next 10 months, up until and after the opening on October 3, Hooper’s job as chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) will be a challenge. The 50-year-old has held the role since December 2000, after moving on as boss of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. Most days, he negotiates his way through the organised chaos of Delhi into the cacophony of the Connaught Place business district as it whirs into mayhem.

It’s a long way from growing up as part of a family of nine children in the Manawatu. Recently his quality control role has been riddled with controversy as Hooper, renowned for being a straight shooter, comes up against local political power. Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the Games’ organising committee, demanded his sacking for what he claimed was incompetence and delaying tactics. That’s after Hooper helped set up an independent monitoring committee – at the CGF’s cost – to oversee the slow pace of preparations. Hooper says they have reached a practical peace, for now.

“My response is that, quite simply we’re going to focus on the issues, get on with the work and continue to assist – because the reality is there’s a lot to be done. It’s no secret we’re behind schedule. It stems from early October when the completion date for a number of venues such as the cycling velodrome, aquatics centre and rugby sevens ground was extended by three months to March 31.”

Is it a real cause for concern? Not really, says Hooper: “So long as they can demonstrate a degree of readiness when we come through formally with the co-ordination commission on December 14. The timeframe from the start of April to the end of September still gives us six months, so we’re not panicking. If you go back to Melbourne, [the Commonwealth Games there in 2006] even some of their venues weren’t ready until three or four months before.

“The MCG, for example, underwent hundreds of millions of dollars worth of renovations, but we only had a month or two before that was ready. The village is something else we’ll get an update on. It’s important we keep monitoring and querying. To be fair, there’s been a lot of Indian government funding, including an increase of Rs 16.2 billion ($500 million) added to the budget recently for operational delivery, broadcasting, venue construction and infrastructural programmes.” Hooper has had the backing of the CGF chairman and president Mike Fennell during the time of crisis. The president of the NZOC, Mike Stanley, has also waded in on his behalf after his October visit to Delhi for the General Assembly.

“He’s known for speaking his mind and he’s done that. He hasn’t shied away from asking the hard questions to make sure the event is delivered on time and to a certain standard,” said Stanley. “That has upset some people, but he was in a difficult position and needed to push and prod to make sure athletes get the best Games possible. It’s a situation that shouldn’t have presented itself to the CGF to start with.” Hooper acknowledges that one of the biggest concerns is the security risk following the March gunmen attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Pakistan and the Mumbai terrorism episode just over a year ago. “We’re all aware we live in a crazy world and these issues receive a lot of attention. But the Delhi police have done an excellent job moving people between venues thus far.”

“With terrorism, you also have to look at London being awarded the Olympics in 2005 and the day afterwards suffering the [July 7] bombings. It can happen anywhere. While there are a lot of crazies, there’s been a lot of information-sharing with the other agencies at the highest level, like London’s Metropolitan Police and New Zealand’s force. There are four tiers of security to pass through at venues and the manpower is significant – 85,000 sworn officers and 30,000 paramilitary types.”

Connected to the same Commonwealth Games was an equally fascinating front-page expose in Mail Today on how the Organising Committee is fighting the Union of India in the Delhi High Court. The story revealed that the OC writ petition before the Delhi High Court has snubbed the Centre claiming there was no direct or indirect control over it by the government and there was no funding by it to manage its day-to-day affairs or to run its office. The Centre, on the other hand, alleged that the claims had no basis as the CWGOC had received substantial funds from it and owed its birth to it. The committee had admitted in its 2005-06 audit report that it had received Rs 52.58 crore of its receipts of Rs 52.72 crore from government sources, it pointed out.

I am reproducing parts of this important story from the Delhi based paper for greater and wider dispersal: Responding to the contention that the government was merely acting like a financier to the committee, the Centre said it could not be treated as a lender because it had provided a loan of Rs 272.72 crore without any security to an organisation without any assets. The government was committed to provide Rs 767 crore, but the committee itself had later requested for around Rs 1,780 crore, it said. In this year’s Budget, the government sanctioned an enhanced provision of Rs 1,820 crore for the 2010 Games. The government also pointed out that though it had no share in profits, it had to bear the loss if the committee failed to generate enough revenue from the 2010 Games. “In this scenario, it is the moral as well as the statutory duty of the petitioner (the CGOC) to use public funds judiciously and be open for scrutiny at all times,” the Centre said in its affidavit before the Delhi High Court.

Refuting the charge that it was encroaching upon the role and responsibility of the committee, the government said it only intended to ensure accountability of the committee to the public exchequer. The Centre also contested the claim of the committee that it was not under the control of the government or a public authority accountable to reply to queries under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It pointed out that it was a signatory to the November 13, 2003, host city contract with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the birth of the committee arose out of that contract. After execution of the contract, the chairman and composition of the committee was decided by the government’s core Group of Ministers (GoM) in its meeting on January 29, 2005. The executive board of the committee had four government officials as members and two as special invitees.

On the claim of the CGOC that it would generate funds on its own, the Centre pointed out that the Delhi government, the Sports Authority of India, the DDA, etc., would provide infrastructure without any user charges for the Games, but that will generate revenue for the committee. Besides, the staff of the committee is paid from its account which is entirely funded by the government, the Centre said. The controversy erupted after a person filed an RTI application before the Sports Ministry seeking to know the details of payments made to actors Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan, among others, for taking them to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in Melbourne in 2006.

Even as I write this, I am reading details of BJP leader Vijay Goel’s presser, where he has fulminated against OC chairman Suresh Kalmadi, calling him corrupt and inefficient. I am amazed that the government cannot exercise any control over Kalmadi and his shenanigans. I cannot believe that the OC is refusing to share financial details of its spend on stadia, etc., with the Government. After all, the OC was empowered by the Government and all the projects which have seen time and cost overruns are being financed by the same Government. It is a travesty.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.
The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of

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