Commonwealth Mess: The Games Played Behind The Woodwork
Less about sports, the Delhi Commonwealth Games is now more synonymous with scams, obscene overspending and crumbling stadia. Here's a sampling of the mess that the games are in:
- The Commonwealth Games pays over Rs 3 crore without a written contract to a little known firm in the UK—AM Films of Ashish Patel —for cabs and audio-visual services during the Queen's Baton Relay function in London. In defence, Kalmadi says the Indian High Commission recommended the firm. He produces an e-mail from the high commission, which the MEA says is doctored.
- Will blow up Rs 40 crore for a blimp (with mounted cameras and lights) that will be used for just three hours at the opening ceremony of the games.
- Medical equipment bought at 6-7 times the market price. Some overlay equipment—like treadmills—have allegedly been hired at many times their real cost. The budget of Rs 670 crore for this is under the scanner.
- The Enforcement Directorate is investigating payments of over Rs 50 crore to two firms—Switzerland-based Event Knowledge Services and an Australian firm, Sports Marketing and Management. The Chief Vigilance Commission has inquired into 15 infrastructure projects related to the games, pointed out jacked up rates, poor execution, fake certificates and tampered tenders.
- The CBI, according to a report, has registered at least one case in a fraud involving streetlights.
- The games has few private sponsors. Even the PSUs roped in have developed cold feet.
- To meet deadlines, most of the stadia have been inaugurated before they have been completed and the hurry has also led to substandard construction. The roof of the weightlifting stadium—part of the main venue at JLN Stadium (right)—started leaking hours after its inauguration. A portion of the ceiling of the SP Mukherjee Swimming Complex also came crashing down and a swimmer was injured there when a cover on the water drainage system came apart when she was diving. Earlier, a roof at the Yamuna Sports Complex had collapsed.
Claiming credit comes naturally to Suresh Kalmadi. It hardly matters whether he merits it or not. In the effusive biography posted on his official site, Kalmadi even lays claim to India’s first Olympic gold. Without even referring to the sportsperson who won it (Abhinav Bindra), his website asserts that he brought home the gold medal as president of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Self-aggrandisement defines Kalmadi, chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (OC) and the unfazed man at the centre of controversy.
And the Commonwealth Games got a taste of it right from the start when he made an impromptu declaration in the last leg of the bidding process in Jamaica that, as hosts, India would pay each participating country $100,000. “That decision was his personal commitment,” says Vikram Verma, who was the Union sports minister when Delhi won the bid in 2003. “Since then, the games have become more of showmanship for Kalmadi. It has been a one-man show, where he takes everything in his hand and monopolises all decision-making.”
“When a pipe bursts in Delhi, you never know which agency’s pipe it is! That is how Delhi is structured.”
Rakesh Mehta, Chief secretary, Delhi
It is no surprise then that he finds himself at the centre of a huge row where scams seem to blow up in his face virtually on a daily basis (See box: Commonwealth Mess). Kalmadi probably wishes the only leaks he was dealing with were leaking stadium roofs. But things have worsened by the day, as the media unearths more instances of brazen corruption. On Thursday, heads began to roll in an effort to rebuild credibility. The OC suspended senior officials T.S. Darbari, Sanjay Mohindroo and M. Jayachandran for irregularities. Treasurer Anil Khanna resigned after reports that a firm represented by his son had won the contract to lay the tennis turf at the R.K. Khanna stadium. A sponsorship deal with the Australian firm Sports Marketing and Management that had come under the scanner was also cancelled. While Kalmadi may duck calls for his own ouster, he too stands accused of brandishing a forged e-mail from the Indian High Commission as his defence for paying over Rs 3 crore to an obscure firm in London—AM Films—without a written contract. The games organising machinery too is packed with many of his close associates, like spokesperson Lalit Bhanot and joint DG R.K. Sacheti.
Kalmadi, who is the Congress MP from Pune, is fast proving a liability for the party; it has distanced itself from him. While giving a clean chit to sports minister M.S. Gill, urban development minister Jaipal Reddy and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit, party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed says Kalmadi should be seen as the chairman of the IOA and not as a Congress representative. Many Congress members say the organisation of the games is indeed an embarrassment. Worried about the damage to the brand, even the chief of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mike Fennel, has called for an inquiry into the allegations. On the other hand, the OC insists it has followed transparent financial procedures and Kalmadi says he will not shy away from any inquiry.
With no sporting credentials, Kalmadi finds himself being criticised by people who feel a sportsperson should have run a show like this. Mihir Bose, a former BBC sports editor and a London-based writer and broadcaster, says, “I do not understand how he has come to acquire this position of influence in the Indian Olympic Association. He has no sporting credentials and he makes no international impression. The question is, who is Kalmadi? Had it not been for the Commonwealth Games, would we have ever heard of him?” Bose points out that Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, is a former Olympian and Sebastian Coe, who won the 2012 Games for London, is an all-time great of the world of athletics. Even Jacques Rogge, current president of the International Olympic Committee, is a former Olympian.
But why do we have politicians like Kalmadi governing Indian sports instead of efficient and honest sports managers? Bose argues it has to with a class bias. In India, players tend to come from the lower classes, with the possible exception of cricket. “They are not considered intelligent enough to run sports, never put in a position of power and always exploited by the babus and politicians. The politicians ride on the back of the athletes and use their success to acquire power and run sports in India,” he says. “Around the world, sports is now used a tool for furthering cultural and political policies. But in India, something like the Commonwealth Games is just left to the likes of Suresh Kalmadi.”
“I am concerned about the rights violations in the name of the games. Fraudsters can stay in Delhi, beggars can’t?”
A.P. Shah, Ex-CJI, Delhi High Court
To be fair, the mess goes beyond Kalmadi. Those who must take equal blame are the Delhi government, the ministry of urban development and the ministry of sports, along with the agencies contracted for infrastructure development. According to Delhi’s chief secretary Rakesh Mehta, too many agencies spoilt the broth. “But that’s how Delhi is structured. When a pipe breaks in the city, you never know whose pipe it is,” he says. This ambiguous zoning of the city and poor coordination among agencies has led to instances of work completed by one agency for the games being destroyed by another to start work afresh. For example, the PWD had completed the construction of a pavement in front of the main gate of the Indira Gandhi Stadium, but it was then fully removed by the CPWD. With the games less than two months away, parts of the city are still lying dug up, deadlines forgotten.
One would have thought that the games would have been more humane in democratic India than in autocratic China. But that was not to be. People were uprooted to make way for the games village, rights of the labourers working at the Commonwealth sites were overlooked, and beggars were literally abducted by the state to sanitise Delhi’s roads. A.P. Shah, a retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court, says, “What I am really concerned about is the human rights violations in the name of the Commonwealth Games.” Releasing a report on the impact of the games on the poor in May, he said, “The government has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to deport beggars to their states of origin. Fraudsters, thieves and corrupt politicians can stay in the city, but not beggars.” The disclosure by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and the Housing & Land Rights Network that the Delhi government diverted over Rs 740 crore from funds meant for SCs and STs to the games have muddied the waters further.
But as D-day nears, all attention is on ensuring that the games are a success. “A post-mortem will follow only after that,” says Mehta. Rightly so, as India struggles to save its face. Kalmadi might even be able to pull off a miracle. If one is to believe what his website says, he just may. Drumming up his abilities as a businessman, the website quotes him: “I have no time or inclination for small events. Anything big and massive immediately calls for my attention.” The trouble though is that after the “big and massive” games are done with, Kalmadi and his co-organisers may just find themselves the subject of equally big and massive investigations.